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Feb 6, 2024 7:02 pm

Lightning, Rangers clash in matchup of East powers

zibanejad

While the New York Rangers returned from the All-Star break with the type of pulsating win often seen in their stellar opening two months, the Tampa Bay Lightning are on their best roll of the season.

The Rangers attempt to secure a third straight win for the first time in nearly two months Wednesday night when they host the surging Lightning.

New York entered the All-Star break with a 7-2 win in Ottawa on Jan. 27 and then returned from the layoff by earning a 2-1 overtime victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Artemi Panarin scored his 31st goal to tie it in the third period and Alexis Lafreniere won it 1:53 into the extra period off a pass from Mika Zibanejad.

“It was not the prettiest win,” Zibanejad said. “But a gutsy win, that means a lot.”

The win gave the Rangers consecutive victories for the first time since Jan. 14-16. New York had dropped four of five (1-3-1) before its win in Ottawa and is attempting to win three straight for the first time since Dec. 15-19 when it defeated Anaheim, Boston and Toronto.

Those wins are New York’s best stretch since getting off to an 18-4-1 start to the season. Since the hot start, the Rangers are 13-12-2 in their past 27 contests.

“It’s one win, but we get a little bit of a restart,” Zibanejad said. “Even though we won the last game before the break in Ottawa, I think January as a whole wasn’t our best month this year or this season. We’ve talked about it. We wanted to get a good start coming off this break and we got the win (Monday), so now we’ve got to keep going.”

Tampa Bay’s stretch of eight wins in its last nine games resembles what the Rangers achieved in the opening weeks of the season.

The Lightning were 14-13-5 following a 4-2 loss at Calgary on Dec. 16. Since then, they are 13-5-0 in their past 18, including a 10-3-0 run since their 5-1 home loss to the Rangers on Dec. 30.

Tampa Bay won five straight Jan. 9-20 and entered the break with three straight 6-3 victories.

“Our confidence is very high, but at the same time we can’t bank on that, too,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman told reporters at practice Monday. “So we have to find a way to get back in the game action right away and take off where we left off and just make sure that we’re ready to go, because this doesn’t mean anything if we don’t go out there and execute in the future here.”

Brandon Hagel is among those heating up for the Lightning as he has five goals in his past nine games.

Hedman collected three assists in the final game before the break and has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in the past nine games. Steven Stamkos also scored for the second straight game and has five tallies in his past seven games, while Nikita Kucherov has four goals and 14 assists in his past eight contests.

Tampa Bay also is on the verge of getting healthier as it attempts to stay hot. Defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak are expected to return from injuries as the Lightning start a four-game road trip.

Sergachev is returning from a 17-game absence since taking a puck off his leg on Dec. 19. Cernak is returning from missing seven games due to an upper-body injury.

–Field Level Media

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