The New York Rangers will play host to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the upcoming NHL regular championship match tomorrow.
Returning from the All-Star break, the New York Rangers ascend victorious from two consecutive games: their 7:2 rout over Ottawa on January 28th followed by an overtime victory over the Colorado Avalanche with a final score of 2:1. In the latter match, Artemi Panarin netted his 31st puck of the season, levelling the score in the third period, with Alexis Lafrenière securing the win just 1:53 minutes before overtime's termination courtesy of an assist from Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad acknowledged the victory, though unremarkable in its aesthetics, held great weight, especially following the Rangers' losing streak of four out of five preceding games.
The Rangers demonstrate a marked improvement in performance, garnering three victories from their latest five encounters. Igor Shesterkin has this season participated in 32 matches, reflecting 89.88% of shots and conceding an average of 2.86 goals per game. Panarin continues to lead the team's top scorers list with 67 points over 50 matches, including the victory over Ottawa. The Rangers' offensive energy gains momentum, averaging 3.24 goals per game. Aside from Panarin, Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck who together account for 61 goals and 99 assists, the trio of Chris Kreider, Lafrenière, and Blake Wheeler also contributed 45 goals and 50 assists. Defenders Adam Fox and Erik Gustafsson added 12 goals and 48 assists.
Tampa Bay Lightning have been in impressive form this season, claiming eight victories in their latest nine matches, a performance reminiscent of their glorified past. Following a loss to Calgary on December 17th with a 16-14 record, Lightning boosted their performance to 13-5 in the next 18 games, featuring ten victories after a home loss to the Rangers on December 31st. Since January 10th, the team have strung together a five-match winning streak, embarking on their break with a wave of three back-to-back 6:3 victories.
Defender Victor Hedman embodied the team's soaring confidence level while emphasizing the need to continue striving for maintaining this form. Brandon Hagel, with five goals from the latest nine games, and Nikita Kucherov with four goals and 14 assists from eight recent matches, stand out in the roster. Steven Stamkos and Artemi Panarin also make significant contributions to the attack. The impending return of defenders Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak following injury is expected to enhance the team's performance in the forthcoming four-match tour.
In recent encounters between Tampa Bay and the Rangers, the results have been as follows: On December 31st, 2023, the Rangers beat Tampa with a score of 5:1; On April 6th, 2023, the Rangers emerged victorious over Tampa with a 6:3 scoreline; on December 30th, 2022, Lightning won against the Rangers in overtime with a scoreline of 2:1; On October 12th, 2022, the Rangers claimed victory with a score of 3:1; and on June 12th, 2022, Tampa Bay rose victorious with a 2:1 scoreline.
Pitting two of recent years' top Russian forwards - Panarin and Kucherov against each other, I'll place my bet in favour of Nikita whose Tampa has showcased 13 victories in the latest 18 matches, inching closely to the top-3, a feat they failed to achieve recently before falling into the playoff zone. New York, prior to the break was not particularly stable, losing against San Jose. My prediction is a win for the Lightning.