For the second time in the past eight days John Tortorella's current team will face his former team as the Rangers (5-5-0, 10 pts) host the Tampa Bay Lightning (6-4-0) Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. When the Rangers faced the Lightning in Tampa last Saturday they were coming off a bad home loss and the Lightning were riding a five-game winning streak---and the Blueshirts skated away with an exciting come-from-behind 3-2 victory. Now tonight the Rangers are coming off a 4-1 victory over the Islanders Thursday night while the Lightning have lost three in a row.
Thursday night the Rangers were energized by the play of 19 year-old rookie J.T. Miller, who scored on his first shift and finished with a pair of goals in his Garden debut. In the two games he has played since being recalled from the Connecticut Whale, Miller has added speed, grit, energy, and skill to the Rangers lineup, though Tortorella remains cautious in his praise for the rookie since it has been only a two-game sampling. One thing the head coach can not deny, however, is how inserting Miller and fellow rookie Chris Kreider into the lineup---and the return to health of team captain Ryan Callahan---has given the team a much deeper group of forwards.
Tortorella consistently used four forward line combinations on Thursday for pretty much the first time this season. On Friday Tortorella pointed to not only Miller and Kreider playing well on the third line, but the recent addition of Darroll Powe to the fourth line, as reasons why players are slotted better into line combinations and why he was able to better utilize all 12 of his forwards on Thursday night.
The No. 1 line of Marian Gaborik-Brad Richards-Rick Nash was also broken up for the Islanders game, with Gaborik scoring for the first time in five games while playing on a line with Richards and Taylor Pyatt. Nash skated with Derek Stepan and Carl hagelin, though Tortorella emphasized Friday that he is not sure what his line combinations will be against the Lightning.
To that end, Tortorella will have to decide whether or not Brian Boyle returns to the lineup this evening---and who would come out---or if he remains a healthy scratch as he was for the first time in more than three seasons on Thursday. Boyle had just one assists in nine games, and the head coach pointed out prior to Thursday's game that he was also not happy with any facet of Boyle's game, including on the penalty kill, which is a specialty of his.
The other question mark for the Rangers tonight is whether or not defenseman Dan Girardi will be able to play. Girardi, who did practice on Friday, has missed the last two games with an unspecified, yet nagging, injury.
Henrik Lundqvist, who sparkled with 27 saves against the Islanders, is expected to start in goal for the Blueshirts after watching Martin Biron stop the Lightning cold last weekend. Anders Lindback, who sat in favor of Mathieu Garon against the Rangers last Saturday, is expected to start for Tampa Bay.
The Lightning are finishing up what has turned into a strange road trip. They have suffered a 2-1 defeat in Philadelphia and a 4-2 loss in New Jersey before having their game with the Bruins cancelled yesterday. Though both teams and the officials were in Boston and able to get to the arena, Saturday's game was postponed due to the massive snowstorm that hit the city, with city officials concerned aboutt he safety of fans and arena workers trying to get to the game. The game was originally set to begin at 1:00, then was pushed to 7:00, before eventually being cancelled.
So the Rangers will face a rested opponent tonight, one that is extremely dynamic offenisvely even though limited to just five goals scored during its three-game losing streak. The Lightning had scored 37 goals in its first seven games of the season, including three games of six or more goals. Tampa's Steven Stamkos is tied for third in the NHL with 17 points (7-10-17) in ten games, while teammate Martin St. Louis is right behind him with 16 points (3-13-16), while leading the league with 13 assists.
Last season the Rangers and Lightning played twice at The Garden and both games lasted more than 60 minutes. The Lightning beat New York 3-2 in a shootout on December 8, 2011, while the Rangers gained revenge with a 4-3 overtime win on February 9th, a game-decided when Richards tallied the overtime-winner against his former team.
Can the Rangers move above the .500 mark finally and start stringing some victories together? Share your predictions on Sunday's game below.