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Disappointed Lightning return home to face Rangers

Mar 13, 2022; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) during a stop in play against the Vancouver Canucks in the third period at Rogers Arena. Tampa Bay won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

After a somewhat disappointing six-game trip out West, the Tampa Bay Lightning return home for a brief, one-game layover Saturday night against the New York Rangers.

The Lightning felt like they would get more out of the lengthy road swing, which started in Chicago and ended Wednesday night in Seattle. The club posted a 3-3-0 mark on their trek across Canada and the U.S.

The trip opened with a win and ended with two, but regulation defeats in Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton left a sour taste for the second-place Lightning, who entered Friday trailing the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers.

Steven Stamkos celebrated his 900th career game — all with Tampa Bay — by recording three assists as the Lightning broke a 1-1 tie and beat the expansion Kraken 4-1 to round out the trip.

He said a key was the Lightning’s ability to energize its power play, which was 0-for-14 in the first five matches on the road.

With Stamkos on the left side and fellow sniper Nikita Kucherov on the right, the squad received a big night from point man Victor Hedman. The standout defenseman scored twice on the power play after Stamkos dropped passes back to him.

“He’s been really hot shooting the puck lately,” Stamkos said after skating in No. 900 for the Lightning. “Teams obviously can’t cover all of us on the ice. When you have the threats and you’ve got (Brayden Point) in the hole and (Alex Killorn) down low, (Hedman) starts bombing away up top — that’s when things just open up.”

The Rangers are 2-0-0 against Tampa Bay this season, winning a home-and-home set against the champs over a three-day period around New Year’s Day.

In his Thursday debut — a 2-1 loss against the Islanders — new Ranger Frank Vatrano posted one shot on goal while logging 14:47 of ice time.

New York acquired him from the Florida Panthers for a 2022 fourth-round pick on Wednesday, just a few days ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

“Florida was home for me, but to be traded to a franchise like the Rangers is an absolute thrill,” the East Longmeadow, Mass., native said. “It was great, especially playing a rivalry game (in the) first game. I thought it was a good effort all around.”

Skating at right wing with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome on Thursday night, Vatrano provided a spark and drew an interference penalty on Scott Mayfield. Chris Kreider soon scored on the man advantage — his 40th goal — to level it 1-1 in the second period.

“It’s a great opportunity playing with two world-class players like that. I just tried to bring my speed and get to the dirty areas and create space for them,” said Vatrano, who was undrafted after his career at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Notching 10 goals and nine assists over 49 contests for Florida, the speedy Vatrano left the Panthers on a high note Tuesday in San Jose.

In Florida’s 3-2 overtime win, he had the final two tallies on nasty one-timers from the slot — the tying goal early in the third, then the game-winner 1:11 into three-on-three overtime.

However, the lefty-shooting winger had found himself in Florida’s doghouse.

In the previous 27 games before his heroics against the Sharks, he went goalless in 18 straight and did not play in nine.

–Field Level Media