The New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning are preparing to play the second of back-to-back games this afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts defeated the Bolts in a shootout, 4-3, at the Amalie Arena on New Year’s Eve. Barclay Goodrow, formerly of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was the best player in the game for the Blueshirts. Let’s take a look at some storylines ahead of today’s game.
2 Storylines: Tampa Bay Lightning (21-7-5)
Cooper, Elliott, Sergachev and Others Return from COVID Protocol
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, Brian Elliott and Mikhail Sergachev returned from COVID-19 health and safety protocols this week. The head coach, who had been in COVID protocol since Dec. 21, returned last Thursday to coach the game against the Florida Panthers. Elliott, who entered protocol last Monday, returned and started in goal for the Bolts during Friday night’s game.
Starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been in health and safety protocols since last Sunday. Sergachev was back in the Lightning lineup for Friday’s game after being placed in COVID protocol a week ago. The defenseman commented about being in protocol, “Obviously, it was frustrating for a little bit. But then you just have to get off that subject, you know what I mean? Like, stop thinking about it and just think about how ready you’re going to be when you come back,” (from ‘Lightning’s Mikhail Sergachev, Andrej Sustr return from COVID protocol,’ Tampa Bay Times, 12/31/21). Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Andrej Sustr also returned to the Bolts at the end of the week after being placed in health and safety protocols last Sunday and Monday, respectively.
Lightning Have Success in December To Take Lead in Atlantic Division
The Florida Panthers had the lead in the Atlantic Division for the majority of the season up until last month. Despite losing their final two games of 2021 – one to the Panthers and the other in a shootout to the Blueshirts – the Lightning went 9-2-1 during December. The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions are playing like Cup contenders again as 2022 begins.
Steven Stamkos is having another successful season as he has 16 goals and 23 assists in 32 games played. Vasilevskiy is one of the top goaltenders in the league as he has a record of 17-4-3, a save percentage (SV%) of .928, and a 2.14 goals-against average (GAA). The winner of the Conn Smythe trophy last year should be in the mix for the Vezina trophy this season if he maintains his excellent level of play through the remainder of 2021-22.
2 Storylines: New York Rangers (20-8-4)
Georgiev Returns from COVID protocol, Kinkaid Moved to Taxi Squad
Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev was removed from health and safety protocols yesterday after being placed there on Dec. 26. Due to the NHL reducing the quarantine period from ten to five days for players that are asymptomatic and produce a negative test, the Blueshirts backup netminder is available to play. He stepped up for the Rangers last month while Igor Shesterkin, who returned to play on Dec. 29, missed over three weeks with a lower-body injury.
Keith Kinkaid, who had been the backup while Georgiev was in protocol, was moved to the taxi squad. Adam Huska was assigned from the taxi squad to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL). The Rangers have their starting and backup goaltenders available to play for the first time in a month.
Goodrow Has Memorable Day in Return to Tampa Bay
Goodrow, who was a member of the Bolts Stanley Cup-winning team last season, received his championship ring ahead of Friday night’s matchup. In addition, he would go on to lead the Blueshirts with two goals against his former team in the shootout victory. The forward signed with the Rangers last offseason and both sides agreed to a six-year, $21.8 million contract, with an average annual value (AAV) of $3.64 million.
In regards to his emotions in his return to Tampa Bay, Goodrow said, “I’ve been traded a couple of times, but I haven’t been back to San Jose since I was traded there, so this is the first time coming back to a team I used to play for. Obviously, brings back a lot of memories, a lot of good times we had here in this building. It was cool to see the banner in the rafters for the first time and just brought back a lot of good emotions” (from ‘Rangers’ Barclay Goodrow not surprised Lightning thriving without him,’ New York Post, 12/30/21).
The second game in three days between the Lightning and Rangers is expected to be an interesting game between two teams that are contenders in the Eastern Conference. Friday’s game between the teams was evenly matched and needed to be decided in a shootout. The Blueshirts would benefit from beating the Bolts in two consecutive games in terms of a young team growing more confident due to defeating the winner of the Stanley Cup the last two seasons. Both teams are in a position of needing to win in order to remain competitive in their respective divisions.