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Lightning (22-11-5, 49 Points) vs. Rangers (22-14-2, 46 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (7-1-2); New York (6-3-1)
Season Series: Tampa Bay holds a 2-0 series edge over New York this season as both teams come in to face off each other for the third time out of four total meetings. The Lightning first picked up a victory in their home arena on Nov. 24 before doubling up with an additional win on Dec. 23 at Madison Square Garden, which ended in a marathon of a shootout that went 11 rounds.
The Big Story: The Lightning rejoined Washington in first place atop the Southeast Division standings with a win in their last game and have won seven of their last nine contests. Another victory tonight would put Tampa Bay in sole possession of first with a Capitals loss to Pittsburgh in the Winter Classic matchup. The two Southeast foes will then meet each other in the team’s next game following tonight, as Tampa Bay will play its next two straight games against teams currently holding playoff spots.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay concludes its three-game home stand tonight against the Rangers. It will begin a four-game road swing beginning Tuesday in Washington. The Bolts have split the pair of games so far during the stretch, avenging a tough 4-3 loss to Boston with a bounce-back victory over Montreal Thursday that gave young goaltender Cedrick Desjardins his first career NHL win in his league debut. Steven Stamkos scored twice and Martin St. Louis added a goal to extend point streaks, while Vincent Lecavalier recorded a point for the fourth straight game. Pavel Kubina scored a goal for the second time this season to pass Dan Boyle on the franchise all-time list for most career goals by a defenseman. All attention, however, was on Desjardins following the win, which came against his former parent club after spending four seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.
RANGERS – New York plays in the rubber match of its three-game road swing tonight in Tampa after kicking off the trip with a 3-1 win over New Jersey on Wednesday. The Rangers have won two straight since their last meeting with the Bolts two days before Christmas, and have wins in five of the last seven overall. New York’s offense has been on point recently, scoring 10 goals in its last two games after blanketing the Islanders with 52 shots on goal Monday night. New York’s recent run has moved it to sixth in the Eastern Conference, one spot behind the Lightning, as tonight’s game carries important playoff position implications for both clubs.
Who’s Hot: Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos has seven goals and 12 points in his last seven games and Martin St. Louis has five goals and eight assists in his last seven as well, while Vincent Lecavalier has points in four straight. Derek Stepan leads the Rangers with two goals and six points on his current five-game point streak, and Brian Boyle and Brandon Dubinsky each have five points in their last three contests.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Steve Downie (ankle sprain, out 1 week, placed on Injured Reserve), Mike Smith (minor knee injury, out 2 weeks, placed on Injured Reserve). RANGERS – Vinny Prospal (knee).
Notable Quotable: “I wasn’t really thinking about it too much. I was just focused on the job I had to do. At the end, I had to give thanks to my teammates and my coaches. This was one of those moments you’ve always wanted to enjoy.” – Cedrick Desjardins, after earning his first career NHL win in his league debut, against his former organization, on Thursday versus Montreal
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