The New York Rangers remain at the top of the Eastern Conference at the moment, but that lead will soon disappear if the Blueshirts do not regain consistency in their play and begin to win games again. Granted they had a point robbed from them in Tuesday's 1-0 regulation loss to the New Jersey Devils, they still did not play a 60-minute hockey game and were embarrassed for most of the first period. Leading up to the All-Star Weekend and now, in the few games they've played after, the Rangers haven't been the same team they were in November through mid-January. They cannot seem to win more than two consecutive games in a row, which could potentially become a problem if they want to maintain home ice advantage going into the playoffs.
When facing the Devils at Madison Square Garden this past Tuesday, the Rangers had tied the game with three seconds remaining in regulation but the goal was waved off due to goaltender interference. Of course, as we now know, the fault was actually on Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov, as he pushed Marian Gaborik into goaltender Marty Biron. Obviously that was a very frustrating way for John Tortorella's club to go down, so tonight's meeting with the Lightning is an opportunity to rebound.
Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, the Lightning have slowly started to climb back up the standings after sinking to the very bottom earlier in the season. The Bolts are 6-2-3 in their last ten games (as are the Rangers), but are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday. They struggled to capitalize on their chances and could not get any offense aside from Steven Stamkos' one goal.
After that loss, and the fact that the Lightning are still 10 points out of a playoff spot in the East, they will be coming at the Rangers hard this evening. They're playing desperate hockey right now, because they know that they are a playoff team as they proved last season. Normally there isn't much pressure on a team lower in the standings like this, but I know that this Tampa team expects to make the playoffs in April.
Also, there is some history between these two clubs, as the last time they met we saw Artem Anisimov's rifle celebration cause some fireworks that lasted until the final buzzer. The Lightning went on to win that game, 3-2, in a shootout.
The Rangers will be keying in on Marty St. Louis tonight, as the speedy winger has 5 goals and 3 assists in his last five games. Needless to say, he is very dangerous alongside Stamkos out there.
For the Rangers, they will be shaking up the lineup a bit for the first time since before the All-Star break. Steve Eminger will be returning on defense tonight, with Stu Bickel serving as a healthy scratch. I know that Eminger has not played since returning from injury, but in my opinion, Bickel has played very well and has earned his spot on the blue line. I do not feel that he should have to give it up, even for a night, just to allow Eminger to get some playing time.
In addition to that, the coach is making another surprising move by starting Marty Biron in goal tonight, over Henrik Lundqvist who is coming off an outstanding performance against New Jersey. I expected Hank to finish out the week and Biron to start Sunday against the Capitals, but that apparently will not be the case. I would think that the Rangers would try to guarantee a win tonight with Lundqvist in net. Oh well, I guess we have to hope for the best with Biron.
New York Rangers Lineup
Anisimov - Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Hagelin - Mitchell - Ryan Callahan
Fedotenko - Richards - Rupp
Dubinsky - Boyle - Prust
McDonagh - Girardi
Del Zotto - Stralman
Staal - Eminger