Rangers visit Lightning, face familar faces
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TAMPA -- The New York Rangers hit the road on Thursday to visit Rangers South, also known as the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The meeting at Amalie Arena features a matchup between the two teams that made the biggest deal at the trade deadline on Feb. 26
Tampa Bay acquired defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller from the Rangers in exchange for Vladislav Namestnikov, two prospects and two picks.
The deal brought the number of former Rangers on the Lightning roster to five with Ryan Callahan, Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi, Miller and McDonagh. The five players combined to play 2,277 combined games in a Rangers sweater.
While Callahan, Stralman and Girardi, who signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay this summer after being bought out by the Rangers, have all faced their former team before, Thursday's meeting will be the first for Miller, who has two goals and five points in four games with Tampa Bay since the trade.
"I'm trying not to think (about facing his former team)," Miller said. "I did not think I would be facing the Rangers so soon. It's going to be weird for my ex-teammates and my buddies. I don't even know what to think, to be honest. It's going to be pretty wild."
McDonagh will miss the chance to face his former team while he continues to recover from an upper body injury that has kept him out since the first week of February. The 28-year-old former Rangers' captain has been participating in practice with Tampa Bay while wearing a no-contact jersey. McDonagh is expected to be ready to return by early next week to make his Lightning debut, with the hope he can help improve Tampa Bay's defensive play, which has slipped in recent weeks.
"D-zone is something we're continuously trying to work on," Tampa Bay center Brayden Point said. "We're watching a lot of video, and I think it's just finding our guys quicker, maybe a little bit more work ethic. We're kind of getting sloppy a little bit. We're losing our checks a little bit too much."
The Rangers, meanwhile, are starting to see their already slim playoff hopes start to fade away coming off a 3-0 loss at home to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. New York sits seven points out of the second wild card spot with 15 games left to play.
But the Rangers' blue line could get a boost with the possible return of Kevin Shattenkirk, who has been out since Jan. 22 after surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Shattenkirk took part in the team's morning skate on Tuesday and is expected to join the team for the two-game trip through Florida, though no time table for his return has been established.
"Obviously we're looking at the next couple weeks here," New York head coach Alain Vigneault told the New York Post. "Won't be a lot of practice time, but he is coming along real well, he's been skating for a long time, his rehab is right where he is supposed to be."
Updated March 7, 2018