The New York Rangers will seek to extend their winning streak to a season-long 4 games when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town tonight. In the words of the immortal Lou Brown of Major League fame, winning streaks have happened before (click Lou's name if you're unfamiliar with the scene. If so, I pity you).
The Rangers never quite plummeted to the depths of the woebegone Cleveland Indians (both of real life and movie land), but you get the point.
At 24-20-3, and a season-best 4 games over .500, the Blueshirts appear to have turned a corner. It's a rule of thumb in sports to never judge a team when they're on a streak–whether it be good or bad–so it's important not to overreact, but with wins in 8 of 11, this Rangers' team appears to be radically different than the one we saw as recently as early December.
The improved play of Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash has an awful lot to do with it. The Rangers' two big money stars have turned things around as the calendar changed from '13 to '14. In the last 4 games, Lundqvist has a .942 SV%, as well as a personal 3-game winning streak, and Nash is averaging a goal per game.
Not surprisingly, the Blueshirts have won 3 of those games. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that isn't a coincidence.
Tampa Bay enters the day 7 points ahead of the Rangers (27-15-4, 58 points), and as one of the leagues feel-good stories, having been without the services of Steven Stamkos for 29 of their 46 games. Give rookie head coach Jon Cooper a pat on the back–the Lightning are 15-10-4 without their exemplary sniper–much better than anyone expected.
Tampa, like the Rangers, is smallish and quick, and are expected to get goaltender Ben Bishop back tonight. At 22-5-3 with a .935 SV%, Big Ben has been one of the league's biggest surprises, much like his team.
This will be the rubber match between the two teams–their third and final meeting. The first two have been a mixed bag: One, a 5-0 shellacking by Tampa on the infamous "Martin St. Louis night," when the Rangers seemed more interested in watching rather than stopping the mightiest of mighty mites, and the second, a narrow 4-3 victory two weeks ago.
The lineup is expected to stay the same tonight for the Blueshirts, with Lundqvist starting his 5th straight.
-With a goal this weekend, JT Miller now has 8 in 10 games for the Hartford Wolfpack. Guess he doesn't like it down there.
-Brad Richards is on a 5-game point streak (2 goals, 5 assists).
-Meaningless stat: Henrik Lundqvist is 10-2-3 all time with a 1.65 GAA and .935 SV% at The Garden against the Lightning.
-Not so meaningless stat: In his last 20, Olympian Derek Stepan has 8 points, yet is 2nd among Rangers' forwards in time on ice per game with 18:37.
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