Lightning (6-1-0, 12 Points) vs. Rangers (3-4-0, 6 Points)
TV/Radio: Sun Sports HD; AM 970 WFLA
Tonight's matchup between the Lightning and Rangers is the first and only meeting at the Tampa Bay Times Forum this season. Last season the Lightning went 2-1-1 against the Rangers, including a mark of 1-1-0 at home. Tampa Bay has earned at least a point in three straight games against New York, going 2-0-1 in those games. Each of the past three games between the Lightning and Rangers have gone into extra time. The two clubs will meet again in eight days at Madison Square Garden.
The Lightning have won five straight games and look to close out a clean sweep of a season-high five-game homestand tonight with a victory against the Rangers. To do that, the Bolts will again rely on their offense, which enters the contest with an NHL-best average of 5.29 goals per game. The Rangers, meanwhile, will attempt to keep the puck out of their own net, as New York comes in ranked 18th in the 30-team league for average goals against.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay plays in the finale of its season-high five-game homestand tonight, on which it has gone a perfect 4-0-0 thus far. The Lightning will then depart for a four-game road trip that begins Tuesday in Philadelphia. Tonight’s game is the only back-to-back set for the Bolts that features both games at home. That certainly bodes well for Tampa Bay, as it has scored at least five goals in each game of the homestand, outscoring the visitors 24-10. On Friday at the Times Forum, the Bolts burst out for eight goals, two of which came from Cory Conacher, and three of which came with the man advantage. Six additional players scored for the Lightning in the victory, while Anders Lindback made 26 saves.
RANGERS – New York kicks off a two-game road trip tonight in Tampa Bay and will wrap up the swing on Tuesday night in New Jersey. The Blueshirts have won two of their past three, but couldn’t quite extend their win streak past a pair of games, as they suffered a defeat in their most recent outing, a 3-0 loss to the Penguins on Thursday. Evgeni Malkin scored to take a 1-0 game into the third period that was still very much in reach for New York, but the Penguins added two more tallies in the final 19 minutes to put the game out of reach and hand New York its first shutout of the season. After scoring five times in a 5-2 victory over Toronto exactly a week ago, the Rangers have now scored just two goals in as many previous games.
Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos has recorded points in all games this season, recording five goals and 14 points through seven contests. Meanwhile, sensational rookie Cory Conacher has three goals and five points in his past two games. For the Rangers, Marian Gaborik has registered eight points in his past five games, while Rick Nash has three points in as many games.
RANGERS – Ryan Callahan (Shoulder, Out 10-14 Days) and Chris Kreider (Ankle).
Tampa Bay leads the NHL with 37 total goals scored on the season, including an NHL-best 30 goals at home, as well as a league-best 12 power-play goals.
Tampa Bay has notched four or more goals in a game in six of their first seven games this season and five goals in each of its past four home games.
Fourteen different Bolts have registered at least a goal this season.
Cory Conacher leads all NHL rookies in scoring with 12 points on five goals and seven assists.
Vincent Lecavalier enters tonight's game on a five-game point streak with three goals and six assists in that span.
Rangers forward Brad Richards was drafted at the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Tampa Bay and won the 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy as a member of the Stanley Cup champion Lightning. New York defenseman Matt Gilroy also is a former Bolt, as he skated in 53 games with the Lightning last season. Rangers blueliner Steve Eminger is formerly of the Lightning, and appeared in 50 games with Tampa Bay throughout the 2008-09 season. New York forward Taylor Pyatt is also the older brother of Lightning forward Tom Pyatt.
“We know we’ve got offense, but this year for us, it’s all about defense. This is the commitment that players are buying into, so we really want to continue to be patient and rely on our defensive game. That’s how you win games. Every single aspect in this game starts with defense.” – Lightning head coach Guy Boucher
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