Rangers-Lightning Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 02, 2012
The New York Rangers have been one of the best road teams in the NHL under coach John Tortorella, a key reason they comfortably lead the Eastern Conference. They may need to withstand another absence from their captain in an effort to continue pulling away. Ryan Callahan's status is uncertain as the Rangers go for a four-game winning streak against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night. New York (41-15-6) leads the East by nine points on Northeast Division-leading Boston and Pittsburgh. The sizable separation in the standings can be attributed to the Rangers' 20-8-4 road record, one of the best in the league. That success as the visitor may not be much of a surprise. Since Tortorella was named coach Feb. 23, 2009, New York has won 69 road contests to rank among the most in the NHL in that span. The Rangers again proved they're a force away from Madison Square Garden on Thursday, beating Carolina 3-2 to open a stretch of six games with five on the road. Perhaps more impressive was extending their winning streak to three games without Callahan, who missed his first game of the season due to a bruised foot suffered blocking a shot during Monday's 2-0 win over New Jersey. Callahan may be out again, leaving the Rangers without one of their hottest scorers. He had eight goals and three assists in 10 games before getting hurt, and two goals and an assist in three season meetings with Tampa Bay (29-28-6). Marian Gaborik helped pick up the scoring slack against the Hurricanes, netting his team-leading 30th goal and third in four games following a five-game drought. "It feels nice, but we still have a lot of games left," Gaborik said. "I want to put up some more goals. We have a tough stretch coming up with a lot of games in March. Hopefully, we'll get healthy and keep plugging away." The All-Star right wing has also turned playmaker recently with 11 assists in the past 15 contests. His 25 assists are just one shy of his total from last season. Despite his production this season, Gaborik has just one assist in three games versus the Lightning. The Rangers have still won two of them (2-0-1), scoring three unanswered, third-period goals to rally for a 4-2 victory on the road Dec. 3. While New York leads the East, Tampa Bay is six points behind Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff spot. A home-heavy schedule could help the Lightning close that gap. They are 19-9-2 as host, winning four in a row following Tuesday's 2-1 victory over Montreal to open a 12-game stretch with 10 at Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Lightning are expected to continue to be without injured captain Vincent Lecavalier and defensemen Victor Hedman and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Those absences have added more pressure to Steven Stamkos, who scored his league-leading 44th goal against the Canadiens. "It's been a challenge," Stamkos said. "There's a lot of adversity we've had to overcome this last stretch." The superstar center is second in the league with 76 points, and he's collected seven goals and seven assists over the past seven games. He had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 overtime loss at New York on Feb. 9, when former Lightning teammate Brad Richards scored 2:37 into the extra session. Stamkos, though, has just two goals in seven home meetings with the Rangers. Richards, on the other hand, has two goals and two assists against Tampa Bay this season.
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