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Rangers try to cool off Lightning

by Mike Battaglino

RANGERS (3-4-0) at LIGHTNING (6-1-0)


Season series: This is the first of three meetings. Last season, the teams split four games, with two decided in overtime and one in a shootout.

Big story: The Rangers concentrate on keeping the puck out of the net, and the Lightning focus on putting it in. The Lightning were averaging an incredible 4.83 goals per game before scoring eight more in an 8-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday. The Rangers are at 2.29 goals per game.

"It's probably our biggest test of the year with one of the best teams in the East," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos told the team's website. "They're catching us on a rare back-to-back at home, so I guess in a way being up 6-0 [Friday] we were able to rest a couple guys and get ready for tomorrow."

Surprisingly, Tampa Bay was allowing fewer goals per game than the Rangers (2.50 compared to 2.86), before the three allowed Friday.

"We need to be stronger mentally," Rangers coach John Tortorella told The Record. "Everything starts there. We are not at that level consistently enough and that's something that needs to improve before anything else improves on the ice, the approach has to change as far as how hard you have to play. When you're tentative, you're just not sure about yourself."

Team Scope:

Rangers: Tortorella is giving his top players significant ice time to build up their conditioning, but the team is struggling to find more balance in its offense.

The top line of Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash and Brad Richards has eight goals and 20 points in the seven games (Nash has one goal), with each playing almost 20 minutes per game. All the other forwards have combined for five goals and 11 points, with only now-injured Ryan Callahan seeing at least 20 minutes per game.

"We can't hold our breath for a Gaborik three-goal game; we have to win games where [he] scores one and when he scores none," forward Mike Rupp told the New York Daily News. "Any good team has to have scoring through the lineup, but it's been hard to find other than on the first line."

Among the defensemen, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal all are averaging at least 23 minutes per game.

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist has started every game, with Martin Biron getting only a period-and-a-half in one relief appearance.

Lightning: Tampa Bay is 5-0-0 at home and has scored at least five goals in each game, outscoring the visitors 30-13. Its power play went 3-for-5 Friday; for the season, it's 12-for-35 (34.3 percent).

"The last two months of the [season] last year we were great on it," coach Guy Boucher said. "The guys are used to each other, they came in without having to rethink everything or build it up from scratch."

The unit of high-scoring Vincent Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell, Martin St. Louis, Sammy Salo and Steven Stamkos against the Rangers shot-blocking defense in front of Vezina winner Lundqvist will be compelling to watch.

Friday's blowout win allowed Boucher to limit his stars' ice time over the final two periods.

"If we didn't have a game tomorrow, we would have played differently," he said, "I would have coached differently. I would have continued pushing the pace."

Seven players scored and 13 had at least one point Friday; 19 have made the scoresheet this season.

"It's going to be important for us to just keep going," Cory Conacher said. "The first five minutes [are] going to be huge tomorrow just because they had a day off tonight and we had to play tonight, so it's going to be important for us to get those first five minutes under our belt and just try and roll on top of them and just do smart plays and do the little things that make us win."

Who's hot: Del Zotto has six points and is a plus-5. … Conacher had three points Friday, five in his past two games, and leads NHL rookies with 12. … Stamkos has 14 points, at least one in every game, and a goal in four straight. … Salo is a League-leading plus-11, followed by teammate Victor Hedman at plus-10.

Injury report: Rangers forwards Callahan (shoulder) and Chris Kreider (ankle) are out. … Lightning forward Brendan Mikkelson (upper body) was injured crashing into the boards at practice Thursday. He spent time at the hospital before being released.

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