The Rangers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, last night in Raleigh to improve to 41-15-6 on the season and earn their 88th point in the Eastern Conference standings. With 62 games now in the books after Thursday's victory, only 20 remain on the regular season schedule as the Blueshirts get closer and closer to clinching a playoff spot. Tonight they will be looking for points 89 and 90, which would put them well ahead of the pace to not only clinch a playoff spot, but also home ice advantage as well.
New York has won three consecutive games coming into tonight's fourth and final meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. They've taken two out of three previous match-ups, with the most recent one being a 4-3 victory at Madison Square Garden back on February 9. Brad Richards scored the overtime winner against his former club after the Rangers tied late to force an extra period of hockey.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is the middle of a playoff push with only 19 games remaining on their schedule including tonight's. The Blots currently sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 64 points, which leaves them six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot that is held by the Winnipeg Jets at the moment. That's a wide spread to cover, no doubt, but the Lightning have won two straight and six out of their last ten. They were dead last in the Conference back in December, but they've been able to climb out of the hole they dug themselves and make it this far. What's to say they cannot complete the full rebound by April?
Marty St. Louis has 4 goals and 3 assists in four games since re-joining a line with Steven Stamkos, so those two, as always, will be the duo to watch for the Bolts. With some key names out of the lineup right now, they are expected to carry most of the load, so if the Rangers can stop them, there's a good chance they win this game.
It's funny because the Rangers' defense was questioned following the trade deadline when their only move was acquiring John Scott of the Chicago Blackhawks. However, since then, they've only allowed two goals in two games including Monday's shutout of the New Jersey Devils at MSG. They've also kept the shot totals to a very low number lately, which has made the job of their goaltender much easier.
Marty Biron was that man last night, but Henrik Lundqvist will return to the cage for tonight's tilt. Lundqvist recorded his 30th win of the season on Monday and will only be looking to add to that total from this point on. With how dominant he's been, he's on pace to break some records; some of which he's already broken.
Besides Lundqvist, no other lineup changes are expected tonight. That, though, depends on the status of defenseman Michael Del Zotto. Del Zotto left Thursday's game after taking a hit along the boards in the second period. His hip, which he hurt in a prior game, seems to be the problem, but it's unknown as of now whether it will keep him out of this one.
Also, captain Ryan Callahan will not be in the lineup for a second straight game with a bruised foot. He was on crutches and wearing a boot on his foot as of last night.
New York Rangers (Probable) Lineup