The Rangers finish the year in Tampa Bay for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions (7:00 P.M. EST, MSG+).
|7th||NHL Standing Rank||1st|
The Rangers are coming off a 4-3 defeat to the Florida Panthers. It was a back-and-forth game that ultimately saw the Rangers blow a 2-1 lead in the third period to fall to the Panthers. Artemi Panarin and Igor Shesterkin made their returns to the lineup. Panarin recorded the opening goal of the game and Shesterkin recorded 28 saves.
“Both teams were back-and-forth – good goaltending, good solid play from both teams,” said Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant. “But in the third, we got away from it and made a couple of mistakes that ended up in the back of our net.”
The Rangers will conclude 2021 with a tough test against the Lightning. 2021 was a crazy year and it started off with a shortened season due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. New York was fighting until the very end of the season but ultimately fell just short of reaching the playoffs. Owner Jim Dolan relieved former president John Davidson of his duties along with the former general manager Jeff Gorton. Assistant general manager Chris Drury was promoted to general manager and made the decision to fire former head coach David Quinn and hire Gallant. Drury felt the team needed to get tougher to play against. So far in the new campaign, the Rangers are entering New Year’s Eve as the seventh-best team in the league.
A lot changed over the course of the year but the Blueshirts must prepare to take on the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. Looking to get an edge on his former team will be Barclay Goodrow. Goodrow won two Stanley Cups with the Lightning before being traded to the Rangers and signing a six-year contract. This will be Goodrow’s first game back in Tampa Bay.
“Obviously, I know the systems, I know how they play,” said Goodrow. “In the end, it comes down to our game…. When we have all four lines and a 60-minute effort going on, we are a pretty hard team to play against.”
The Blueshirts were without key defender Ryan Lindgren against the Panthers and he is set to miss Friday night’s game. Lindgren is currently in the COVID protocol and is not available. Kevin Rooney and Alex Georgiev remain in the protocol too.
Gallant told the media on Friday afternoon that he will stick with the same lineup including Shesterkin in goal.
Tampa Bay is playing the second half of a back-to-back after being obliterated by the Panthers. The Lightning fell victim to the Panthers by a score of 9-3. Tampa Bay recorded 42 shots in the game but ultimately allowed three goals in each period.
A big reason for the Lightning’s struggles was due to the fact that they are missing eight guys in their lineup – six of which are due to COVID-19. Currently, Tampa Bay has both their starting goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and backup goaltender Brian Elliott in the COVID protocol. However, Elliott was skating with the Tampa Bay goaltender coach on Friday morning which could indicate that he may be available against the Rangers. The situation appears to be very fluid.
On defense, they are missing Andrej Sustr, Taylor Raddysh, and Erik Cernak. And on their offense, Anthony Cirelli is in the protocol while superstar winger Nikita Kucherov is on the injured reserved list.
Tampa Bay will see the return of Mikhail Sergachev. Sergachev missed Thursday’s game against the Panthers but has cleared the protocol ahead of Friday night’s game. The 23-year-old currently has 14 points in 28 games this season.
Also, on defense for the Lightning will be their superstar defender Victor Hedman. Hedman was a Norris Trophy candidate last year but ultimately fell just short. Ex-Ranger Ryan McDonagh will also be looking to stick it to his former team. The former captain of the Blueshirts has ten points on the season.
What to watch
In Friday night’s game, I am looking for the Rangers to take a lot of shots. With the Tampa Bay defense not at full strength and the goaltending situation unclear, it will be very important for the Rangers to get lots of shots and play aggressively. Whether it is Elliott or one of their usual minor league netminders, the Blueshirts need to test the netminder – especially with Tampa Bay playing their second game of a back-to-back.