There’s no doubt about it. This is a big game for the New York Rangers. They visit the Tampa Bay Lightning with a number of objectives. A win and they will sweep the three-game season series. A win and they move back into second place in the Met Division (if the Pens lose tonight). A win and they open up some space ahead of the Capitals and Bruins who have gotten uncomfortably close to the Blueshirts.
They lose and they remain in third place in the Met, the playoff race tightens and it makes Sunday’s match up with the Carolina Hurricanes even more important. The Rangers are starting Igor Shesterkin tonight, so they are definitely looking to win tonight.
Tampa remains one of the powerhouses of the NHL with the fourth best record in the league. Since the All-Star break they have been 9-5-0 though they have had a fairly “easy” schedule with only six games against playoff teams. In those six games the Bolts have gone 2-4, so they have been feasting on non-playoff teams going 7-1-0.
The Rangers are in rare company with two wins against Tampa. The only teams who have beaten the Lighting twice this season are Colorado, Florida and Pittsburgh. The last time the Rangers swept Tampa in a season series was in 2012-13.
The last two meetings
The Rangers won both meetings, a back-to-back set of games on New Year’s Eve and January 2. Igor Shesterkin started both games with the Rangers winning the first game 4-3 in a shootout and then shutting out the Lightning 4-0 at Madison Square Garden. Shesterkin was outstanding, stopping 60 of 63 shots on goal.
The first game featured two giveaways by Tampa goalie Brian Elliott that led to Ranger goals. In the second game Andrei Vasilevskiy came off the COVID protocol, but couldn’t prevail. The Rangers won despite having Artemi Panarin, Kevin Rooney and Ryan Lindgren out due to COVID.
Two top goalies go at it
This game is being billed as a meeting of the two top goalies in the NHL. Igor Shesterkin leads the league in goals against average (2.07) and save percentage (.938). Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the NHL with 32 wins, three more than Shesterkin and he is ninth with a 2.37 GAA and 10th with a .919 Sv%.
Vasilevskiy is coming off two straight wins against Vancouver and Seattle when he allowed one goal in each game. That came after a 1-3 stretch when he allowed 16 goals. Shesterkin has lost two of his last three starts, allowing 10 goals. You can sure that Shesterkin will be at top of his game after losing to his arch rival, Ilya Sorokin.
Trade deadline news
Dave Pagnotta of The Fourth Period dropped a bombshell, saying that the Rangers are shopping Alexis Lafrenière, but only for the right price. That drew this response for Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
While Brooks is probably right, Drury would be foolish to ignore any offer for any Ranger who could be traded. That said, the odds that they are shopping Lafrenière are very unlikely.
Claude Giroux is headed to Florida in exchange for prospect Owen Tippett. Flyerforward Connor Bunnaman is also headed to Florida.
Tough guy Nicolas Deslauriers was traded from Anaheim to Minnesota in exchange for a third round draft pick.
Defenseman Hampus Lindholm is bound for Boston from the Ducks in exchange for a 2022 First Round pick, Second Round picks in 2023 and 2024 along with defenseman Urho Vaakanainen and former Ranger blueliner John Moore.
Projected starting lineups
Frank Vatrano gets his second start as a Ranger and he is well versed in playing Tampa. He has scored eight goals in 22 games against the Lightning, the most goals he has scored against any NHL team. The Blueshirts have to hope he keeps it up.
NEW YORK RANGERS
20 Kreider– 93 Zibanejad –13 Lafrenière
10 Panarin– 16 Strome – 77 Vatrano
21 Goodrow – 72 Chytil – 76 Brodzinski
29 Hunt– 14 McKegg – 75 Reaves
55 Lindgren– 23 Fox
79 Miller – 8 Trouba
12 Nemeth – 45 Schneider
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
18 Ondrej Palat – 21 Brayden Point – 71 Anthony Cirelli
17 Alex Killorn – 91 Steven Stamkos – 86 Nikita Kucherov
7 Mathieu Joseph – 79 Ross Colton – 38 Brandon Hagel
14 Pat Maroon – 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 10 Corey Perry
81 Erik Cernak – 98 Mikhail Sergachev
44 Jan Rutta – 77 Victor Hedman
24 Zach Bogosian – 27 Ryan McDonagh
88 Andrei Vasilevskiy
1 Brian Elliott
Brandon Hagel should be making his debut with Tampa after his trade from the Chicago Blackhawks. He slots into the third line for the Bolts.
How to watch and the live conversation
The game is set to start at 8pm and will be nationally televised on ABC with the live stream also availableon ESPN+. That means it’s Steve Levy, Mark Messier and Chris Chelios providing the entertainment in studio with Sean McDonough doing the play-by-play. The radiocast will be on ESPN 98.7 FM.
This promises to be an interesting game with a lot to talk about so please join the Blue Line Station live conversation that is active now. Talk to your fellow Ranger fans in the comments section below.