With a later start than usual at the world’s most busiest arena, the Blueshirts will play host to Rangers South tonight. Game time isn’t until 8 PM. I have no idea why. It’s not like St. John’s lost badly to Duke at the Garden. But rather at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the woeful Knicks are praying they win the NBA Lottery and land Zion Williamson.
Whatever the reason, it’s the Rangers and Lightning an hour later than normal from 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue over Penn Station. Rangers South as I like to call them, are playing for a second consecutive night. In a well played game between first place teams, they needed a Victor Hedman goal in a shootout to edge the Islanders 1-0 behind Andrei Vasilevskiy.
When they come to town, there’ll be a lot of familiar faces to both the Rangers bench, fans and media. Former captains Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh are two of five former Rangers who play for the Bolts. There’s also Dan Girardi, J.T. Miller and Anton Stralman. The last time I wrote about the ex-Blueshirts, I forgot to include Stralman, who was out injured. It’s hard to remember everyone. Even harder to believe these guys were a big part of those very good teams that made three Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup over a four-year period.
Those days are long gone. Now, the new look Rangers scratch and claw for every point. They enter winners of four of the last five, including Thursday’s 4-3 victory over the Devils that was highlighted by Mika Zibanejad’s second career hat trick and four-point game. Mats Zuccarello kicked in three primary assists and Chris Kreider scored his team-leading 23rd goal. Henrik Lundqvist finished with 19 saves for his fourth consecutive win. He’s in net again later.
Most notably, Pavel Buchnevich gets to stay on the second line at the start due to his inspired play the other night. Coach David Quinn moved him up in place of a struggling Jimmy Vesey. Buchnevich rewarded Quinn’s faith by jumping on the ice for a changing Kreider and keeping a play alive to record a secondary helper on Zibanejad’s game-winner set up by Zuccarello.
This is a chance for the 23-year old right wing to prove himself to the coach. He wants consistent effort from the talented third-year forward entering restricted free agency this summer. It’s up to Buchnevich to prove he should be part of the team’s future moving forward. We’ll see how it goes with Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast.
Filip Chytil will start with Ryan Strome and Vladislav Namestnikov on the third line. Vesey will be on the fourth line in purgatory with Boo Nieves and Cody McLeod.
As for the defense, I’m not sure we’ll see the return of Tony DeAngelo. Whatever happened during the Flyers game on Tuesday on the bench, is why he didn’t play in Newark. It’s not related to his play. He has dealt with off ice issues before. I can’t reveal anything else.
If DeAngelo is a healthy scratch again, that means more of the struggling Neal Pionk with Marc Staal. Brady Skjei with Adam McQuaid, and Brendan Smith with Kevin Shattenkirk.
The Lightning boast the league’s leading scorer Nikita Kucherov (22-57-79), lethal finisher Brayden Point (30 goals) and top center Steven Stamkos (58 points). They also have Hedman and McDonagh on their top two pairs with vets Girardi and Stralman in the top six even though it’s been a struggle for the latter. Tyler Johnson remains a key secondary scorer along with Yanni Gourde, Miller, Alex Killorn and rookie Anthony Cirelli, who must be watched shorthanded. Ondrej Palat is rarely healthy.
This is a deep roster that’s expected to compete for a Cup. It’s Cup or bust for them. A lot of pressure for Jon Cooper’s club. Especially in the same division as the Maple Leafs with a potential heavyweight second round match up in the Spring. It shouldn’t be. But that’s how flawed the current divisional playoff system is. Last year, Winnipeg eliminated Nashville in seven hard fought games in the same round while Vegas cruised through Los Angeles and San Jose before ousting the Jets.
It should be a interesting game. The Lightning couldn’t beat Isles goalie Thomas Greiss on Friday night. You know they’ll be itching to take their best shots on Lundqvist.