The New York Rangers can move on from a 2022 playoff elimination at the hands of Tampa Bay by continuing their recent regular-season success against the Lightning.
In a rematch of the Eastern Conference finals, the Rangers will aim for their fourth straight regular-season victory over the visiting Lightning in Tuesday night’s season opener in New York.
New York posted 110 points last season, then beat Pittsburgh and Carolina, each in seven games, to meet Tampa Bay for a shot at the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers won the first two games of that series, but the Lightning answered with four straight wins to make a third consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearance before their quest for back-to-back-to-back titles ended in a loss to Colorado.
Now, the focus is on the present for a Rangers team that hasn’t made back-to-back playoff appearances since a seven-year run from 2011-17. New York, which returns most of its major contributors from last season, took all three regular-season games from the Lightning in 2021-22.
“We’re in a great spot,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant told NHL.com. “I love what we did last year. We had a great season. Everything was perfect until we lost out in Game 6 against Tampa Bay.
“Now, we have to get better, be better… But I legitimately think we’re a good hockey team.”
Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin leads the way for New York. After playing 47 games in his first two NHL seasons, Shesterkin went 36-13-4 with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in 2021-22. Including the postseason, Shesterkin has a 2.00 GAA and .941 save percentage in nine starts against the Lightning.
Meanwhile, Artemi Panarin (22 goals, 74 assists in 2021-22), Mika Zibanejad (29 goals, 52 assists) and Chris Kreider (52 goals, 25 assists) are coming off career seasons, and the Rangers added Vincent Trocheck (21 goals, 30 assists) from Carolina. The Rangers also boast three of the game’s top two-way defensemen in Adam Fox (74 points), Jacob Trouba (39) and K’Andre Miller (20).
Of course, Tampa Bay still features some of the NHL’s most elite talent. Steven Stamkos, now entering his 15th season, set a career high with 106 points in 2021-22. Defenseman Victor Hedman’s 85 points and forward Alex Killorn’s 59 were each personal bests, and Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point look to return to dominance after injuries hindered parts of their previous season.
In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy lost a career-high 18 games last season but tied for the NHL lead with 39 wins and posted a 2.49 GAA. He is just 1-3-0 with a 3.23 GAA in the regular season at New York.
“You go down the list with Point, ‘Kuch,’ ‘Stammer,’ ‘Heddy,’ ‘Vasi’ back there,” Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli, who is on injured reserve after shoulder surgery, told NHL.com.
“As long as we have those guys, I think we’ll be good for a long time.”
Stamkos, who missed a recent preseason game but is expected play Tuesday, has 11 goals with eight assists in his past 14 regular-season and playoff games against the Rangers. Panarin, meanwhile, has five assists in his past four regular-season contests versus Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay suspended veteran defenseman Ian Cole on Sunday amid an investigation into sexual abuse allegations.
–Field Level Media