Lightning hope to stop funk vs. Rangers (Mar 30, 2018)
NEW YORK -- A loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday night dropped the Tampa Bay Lightning out of first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time in more than five months and immediately left the Lightning focused on a rematch with the Bruins next week.
But the best way for the Lighting to ensure that game remains pivotal is to begin snapping out of their week-long funk Friday night, when it visits the New York Rangers in the Rangers' home finale at Madison Square Garden.
The Lightning and Rangers enter Friday mired in losing streaks. Tampa Bay fell for the third straight game Thursday, when it lost 4-2 to the host Bruins. Visiting New York suffered a second consecutive loss Wednesday, when it was beaten by the Washington Capitals 3-2 in overtime.
The three-game skid has come at an inopportune time for the Lightning (51-22-4), who fell out of first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time since Oct. 19. The Bruins, who took a one-point lead in the race for the Atlantic crown and the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, visit Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
The Lightning have been outscored 10-4 during the losing streak but took some solace in climbing back into Thursday's game after falling behind 2-0 in the first period. The Bruins did not close out the victory until Brad Marchand scored an empty-netter in the final minute of the third period.
"We know we play them again," said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who scored a goal. "We were more focused on our game and how we played. I think we have two good periods, not three. We need to be better in the first, so we don't dig ourselves a two-goal hole. Those last two periods were something to build on. We get right back into it tomorrow."
The Rangers (33-35-9) have been in "something to build on" mode since beginning a rebuilding project before the February trade deadline, though they weren't eliminated from playoff contention until Tuesday.
The game against the Capitals on Wednesday marked the first time the Rangers took the ice officially out of playoff contention since the final days of the 2003-04 season. New York made the playoffs in 11 of the subsequent 12 seasons and missed out on the postseason in 2009-10 via a shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on the final day of the regular season.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has been a mainstay in net for New York since the 2005-06 season, said he's trying not to think too much about what he'll be missing out on when the playoffs begin next month or what lies ahead for a rebuilt roster.
"For me, right now, I just want to focus on these last games," Lundqvist told reporters prior to Wednesday's game. "Compete, and feel as good as you can, personally, and as a group. And then it's time for what's ahead. But right now, you've got to focus on the game. Otherwise, you're not going to make the most of this. We still have a job to do here."