Rangers host Lightning and red hot Kucherov

Tonight, the Rangers return home for the second game of a back-to-back when they play host to the Lightning. Even after the trades of Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle and the predictable loss of former Black & Blueshirt Ryan Callahan, Tampa is still competing for the final wildcard with the Maple Leafs and Islanders.

The Bolts enter with 73 points, trailing the Leafs by three with 15 games remaining. They need the game more than the Rangers, who sit comfortably in the first wildcard with 90 points and 13 games left following yesterday’s 4-1 win over the Red Wings. A game highlighted by Ryan McDonagh’s two goals. Probably his best of the season. Derek Stepan scored his first goal in 24 games on the power play. Michael Grabner returned earning a pair of assists while reigniting Kevin Hayes (17th goal) and J.T. Miller (primary assist on Hayes’ goal). Antti Raanta made 23 saves with his biggest coming on Gustav Nyquist with the game tied. He won his career high 14th.

It’s mostly about slowing down red hot Lightning Bolt Nikita Kucherov. The ultra talented Russian has been on fire posting an unreal 18 points (10-8-18) over his last nine games. During that span, eight of his 10 goals have come on the power play including a hat trick in an exciting home win over Ottawa on 2/27 in which all three goals were off wicked one-timers. Easily one of the game’s brightest stars, he’s carrying the Lightning right now. His 67 points (31-36-67) in 60 contests are almost on par with Pens tandem Sidney Crosby (72 in 61) and Evgeni Malkin (71 in 60). Without him, the Lightning would be sunk.

They have also gotten great play out of top defenseman Victor Hedman. His 58 points (13-45-58) rank third among NHL defensemen trailing only Norris frontrunner Brent Burns (70) and two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson (62). He needs one more goal for a new career high and has already achieved career bests in assists (45) and points (58). Most of his damage has come on the man-advantage where Hedman has produced 31 power play points including 27 power play assists. It looks like finally he’ll get some recognition as a candidate for the Norris.

Andrei Vasilevskiy has been brilliant since taking over the number one goalie for the departed Bishop. He gets the night off with recently acquired Peter Budaj getting the nod against Raanta.

For the Rangers, there are no changes to the lineup. Same lines:










Here is what Tampa looks like. Both Tyler Johnson and Craig Paquette are out.










About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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