On paper, it seems like a rivalry in the making.
The New York Rangers went to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final as the Eastern Conference representative; the Tampa Bay Lightning came into 2014-15 as a chic choice to be the 2015 reps. The two teams employ each others’ former captains in Martin St. Louis and Ryan Callahan, not to mention the Bolts’ other former Blueshirts (Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle).
So far, it’s been more hammer-and-nail than give-and-take, as the Lightning won the first two games by a combined score of 8-4. Rangers defenseman Marc Staal told the New York Post that they must be better tonight, and not just against their former captain.
“There definitely has to be a response,” Staal said on Saturday. “Not just against Cally, but against their entire team.”
“We haven’t played 60 minutes against them. We haven’t played close to our best hockey. They buried us in our rink, and then we were better down there but it wasn’t good enough …”
Monday’s contest at Madison Square Garden will be their last meeting of 2014-15, unless the two teams met in a playoff series.
While the Rangers have been frustrated with their play against Tampa Bay, both teams come into December with some momentum.
The Lightning are on another level with a three-game winning streak, a 16-6-2 overall record and Victor Hedman back in the mix. The Rangers have to feel good after battering the Philadelphia Flyers in back-to-back games and winning four of five, even if their record is a “work in progress” 11-8-4.
Really, more is on the line for New York than just pride, though. After hosting the Lightning tonight, they’ll play five of six games on the road and things only get messier through mid-January.
It’s easier said than done against a team as strong as the Lightning, but the Rangers could really use a win tonight.