Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden the Rangers (24-21-3, 51 pts) look to continue their roll--both with their overall game and on home ice--when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning (27-14-4, 58 pts). The Rangers have won three in a row, have points in five straight games (4-0-1), and are an impressive 8-2-1 in their last 11 overall. They are also playing some of their best hockey on home ice all season, going 4-0-1 in five Garden contests since December 22nd, having won the first two games of their current four-game homestand to even their home mark this season at 10-10-3.
At the heart of the team's strong play of late is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was named as the NHL's Third Star of the Week for the week ending January 12th. In four games last week Lundqvist was 3-0-1 with a 1.97 goals against average and .947 save percentage. He is coming off a splendid performance in the Rangers 4-1 victory over the Flyers Sunday night, one in which he stopped 37 of 38 shots. Lundqvist will make his fifth consecutive start in goal Tuesday, and his eighth in the Blueshirts last nine games.
The team has also found consistency with its lines, with head coach Alain Vigneault settling on four set lines that are all contributing in all facets of the game providing the best balance the Rangers have had all season long. It actually is difficult to select which line is the No. 1 line, or which is No. 2 or 3 because every game it seems someone different is stepping up to make a difference. Of course it has helped tremendously as of late that some of the Rangers big guns have raised their level of play. Rick Nash has scored four goals in the past four games, and Brad Richards is riding a five-game point-scoring streak, with seven points in the span.
Sunday night rookie Chris Kreider continued his solid rookie campaign by scoring his team-leading 12th goal and adding an assist. Kreider is second among all NHL rookies with 27 points, just two behind the top overall pick in the 2013 draft, Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon. He also rankes second in assists, with 15, and third in goals, with those 12. In addition Kreider is an impressive plus-eleven in the plus/minus category, tops on the Rangers by a large margin.
The Rangers fourth line continues to be a force, as well. Sunday Daniel Carcillo scored the Blueshirts first goal just 2:14 into the game, while he, Brian Boyle, and Dominic Moore applied all kids of pressure--physical and otherwise--on the Flyers.
In addition to being able to roll four lines consistently now, Alain Vigneault has three defense pairs that have been playing well. Marc Staal is healthy again and on top of his game, paired with Anton Stralman, giving the Rangers a very solid Top 4, along with the Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi pair. Michael Del Zotto and John Moore--both a plus-two Sunday--have stepped their games up, as well, to round out the defense corps. Moore earned extra props against the Flyers for fighting Brayden Schenn late in the third period when challenged by the Flyers center.
The Lightning sit in second place in the Atlantic Division breathing down the necks of the Boston Bruins while also trying to fend off the Montreal Canadiens. That they have done so without Steven Stamkos, who two years ago scored 60 goals, since early November due to a broken leg is more than admirable. Incredibly Stamkos is skating already, and is hoping to play for Canada in the Sochi Olympics come February. Stamkos has amazed everyone with his stirring comeback so far, though there are still many hurdles for him to clear before he can return to action. Certainly the Lightning are hoping that it can be sooner rather than later, and that Stamkos can regain his form quickly. Prior to his injury Stamkos had scored 14 goals in 17 games this season.
Prior to the NHL holiday break the Lightning had won five games in a row, but since play resumed Tampa is just 4-4-1 in nine games, including a 3-2 loss in Columbus on Monday night. The Lightning led 2-1 after two periods of play, but the Blue Jackets scored twice in the third period against goaltender Anders Lindback. Both of those third-period goals were scored on the power play, and Tampa's recent play on their penalty kill has been downright bad. Including Monday's game, the Lightning have allowed eight power play goals in their previous five games, including at least one in all five contests. Of course in the Rangers last meeting with rhe Lightning on December 29th, the Blueshirts were a perfect 3-for-3 on the power play en-route to a 4-3 victory.
To that end, the Rangers have scored at least one power play goal in a season-high five straight games entering play Tuesday. Their power play is now ranked sixth overall in the National Hockey League.