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Preview: Rangers Head South to Begin Two-Game Road Trip in Tampa

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Rangers (4-7-2, 10 pts) at Lightning (10-2-1, 21 pts)
7:30 PM, Amalie Arena
MSG Network; WOR 710 AM

The Game

The Rangers begin their first multi-game road trip of the season tonight when it heads south to take on the Lightning in Tampa.

New York is looking for its second straight win following Tuesday's comeback win over the Vegas Golden Knights that saw four Rangers goals in the third period to erase a 4-2 deficit en route to a 6-4 victory.

Mika Zibanejad had three points in the third period, including a power play goal that held up to be the game-winner, while Henrik Lundqvist made 30 saves in the victory.

Coach Alain Vigneault practiced the same forward lines as Tuesday's game on Wednesday, but his defense could look different. Ryan McDonagh did not practice, though Vigneault expects his captain to be in the lineup tonight. Brendan Smith, Nick Holden and Steven Kampfer all rotated as a pair, while Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk stayed put.

The Rangers are looking for its first two-game winning streak of the season, and spoke about the challenge of facing a Lightning team that has a share of the top spot in the NHL with 21 points and is 6-1-0 at home this season.

Steven Stamkos is leading the league with 24 points in 13 games, while teammaes Nikita Kucherov is second with 21 points. Six Lightning, including rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, have at least 10 points this season. As a whole, Tampa leads the NHL with 53 goals this year, three better than Toronto.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is off to a phenomenal start in his first season as the No. 1 goaltender in Tampa. He's 10-1-0 with a 2.46 GAA and a .927 SV%, and has lost since Oct. 7 against Florida, which was his second start of the year.

The Lightning's power play comes in third in the league at 29.6 percent, though its penalty kill has struggled at 80.4 percent.

Players to Watch

Zibanejad has been a rock for the Rangers offensively and has seem to embrace the spotlight of being the team's No. 1 center this season. Zibanejad leads the team in goals (8) and points (13) following his three-point third period on Tuesday night against Vegas. His recently reunited line with Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider was the team's best in that victory, as it combined for six points in the win.

It sounds strange to say that Stamkos has turned the clock back considering that he's just 27 years old, but No. 91 is healthy and back to being the superstar he was earlier in his career. Injuries have plagued the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft recently, limiting him to just 37 games in 2013-14, and just 17 a year ago. But that seems to be behind him and he's off to the best start since his 60-goal, 97-point campaign in 2011-12. 

Over the course of his career, Stamkos' 25 points against the Rangers are tied for the second-fewest of any Eastern Conference team, excluding both Detroit and Columbus who joined the conference for the 2013-14 season.

Say What?

"We're playing a really good team tomorrow. Good speed, good skill. Their top guys are playing a huge part for them right now. They're scoring a lot of big goals for them. They're a good home team as well, so we have to expect a really good challenge for us here." - Henrik Lundqvist on facing the Lightning

"Dan was a real solid player for us. A real battler in the four years I had him here and much prior to my arriving here. There's no doubt that he left his mark in our dressing room." - Alain Vigneault on facing former Ranger Dan Girardi

Rangers Projected Lineup

Chris Kreider - Mats Zuccarello - Pavel Buchnevich
Rick Nash - Kevin Hayes - Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey - David Desharnais - J.T. Miller
Michael Grabner - Boo Nieves - Jesper Fast

Defensive pairs unknown, as is starting goaltender

Inside the Numbers

The Rangers have won four of their last five games against Tampa Bay, dating back to Dec. 30, 2015 (4-1-0 record over the span). The Blueshirts have outscored the Lightning, 17-8, in the five contests.

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