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W2W4: Rangers vs. Lightning

2/28/2013

At a glance: The Rangers aim to snap a four-game losing streak with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday at Madison Square Garden, but the Bolts are also looking to get back on track. The Lightning have dropped two straight games, a 2-1 loss to the downtrodden Sabres on Tuesday and a 5-3 defeat against Pittsburgh over the weekend, and must win to stave off a series sweep by the Rangers.

Guess who’s back: Finally some relief for a depleted Rangers squad that has seen its lineup ravaged by key injuries. It appears that both star winger Rick Nash and top-pair defenseman Ryan McDonagh are set to return against Tampa, possibly even Michael Del Zotto, too. The team has suffered without some of its brightest stars; the Rangers are 0-3-1 in all four games that Nash has missed with an "undisclosed injury" that was believed to be a concussion.

Leading the way: Steven Stamkos has carried the Lightning this season. The former first overall draft pick is leading the league in both goals (14) and points (30) through 19 games this season. Stamkos, a two-time Rocket Richards Trophy winner, appears to be on pace to contend for the title again this season. He enters Thursday’s match with a six-game goal-scoring streak. He has registered a gaudy 13 points in the last seven games.

Power outage: Stamkos’ heroics have not translated on the power-play, however. The Bolts have struggled with the man advantage of late, converting on only one of 14 opportunities in the last four games. They’ll face a Rangers’ penalty-killing unit ranked 10th in the league and bolstered by the recent return of forward Darroll Powe.

Season for speculation: With the Rangers struggling to recapture last season’s success, there has been speculation that the team may be on the lookout for some outside help. The fact that a contingent from Newport Sports, one of hockey’s premier agencies, is in town for Thursday’s game only adds fuel to the fire. Newport represents Norwegian winger Mats Zuccarello, who is currently playing in the KHL, and Colorado’s Ryan O’Reilly, who is entrenched in a contentious contract stalemate with the Avalanche. There’s another name to consider -- college free agent Danny DeKeyser. The defenseman out of Western Michigan University uses Newport as his advisers.

Missing men: The Lightning will be without defenseman Sami Salo and forward Ryan Malone, both of whom are dealing with lower-body injuries. According to coach Guy Boucher, the Bolts will roll seven defensemen and start goaltender Mathieu Garon in net.