It is two games out of the 82-game marathon.

It is 2.4 percent of the season, an insignificant number.

And yet, what has transpired in the last two games couldb be a sign, a tantalizing foreshadowing of what spring could be in Manhattan.

The Rangers followed one of their best efforts of the season on Sunday night by an-across-the-board-outclassing of Tampa Bay, 8-2, Tuesday night at the Garden. It was the first time the Rangers recorded eight goals since Jan. 23, 2002.

Eight players scored goals. Sixteen Rangers recorded at least one point, led by Marian Gaborik’s four-point night. All four of Gaborik’s points came off of assists, which tied a career high. He is fourth in the league with 61 points, trailing only Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin (67), Washington’s (65) Alex Ovechkin and San Jose’s Joe Thornton (64). Fifteen players finished plus-one or better, led by the triumvirate of Gaborik, Vinny Prospal and Brandon Dubinsky. Prospal and Dubinsky each had a goal and two assists.

“It’s good to get the scoring spread out. Everyone chipped in. It’s good that, after putting up some goals the last game, to come back and do it again,” said Ryan Callahan, who had an assist, was plus-one and threw eight hits, mostly against Tampa’s rookie defenseman Victor Hedman.

The Rangers will resuscitate their blood feud with division rival Philadelphia Thursday night at the Wachovia Center. It will be the third of six meetings between the two franchises. The Rangers have split the first two games, beating the Flyers in Philly, 2-1, on December 19. Eleven days later, the Rangers were humiliated, 6-0, at the Garden.

One of the pre-season favorites to contend for The Cup, Philadelphia is 9th in the East with a 24-21-3 record. Still, the Flyers and their 51 points are only one spot out of the last playoff berth and four behind the sixth seed Rangers in the dreadfully pedestrian Eastern Conference.

Last night’s match was not the mean affair that Sunday night’s 6-2 win over the Canadiens was, or what Thursday night in Philly promises to be. Still the Rangers stood up for each other and did not back down from Tampa. The Rangers’ newly developed sense of feistiness will be a key component should this team qualify for the playoffs.

“We’re trying to do that. It’s part of being a team is sticking up for each other and throwing the body around. We’re trying to concentrate on taking the body a lot and when you do that, the extra stuff comes with it,” Callahan said. “You go to Philly and they play a tough game. We got to go out and set a tone, just like we did at home. That’s throwing the body around and playing tough.”

The tone for the match was set 10 seconds in, when Aaron Voros fought with Lightning enforcer Zenon Konopka. Konopka, in his first full NHL season, leads the league with 175 penalty minutes. Voros, who had been a healthy scratch for 27 of the Rangers’ 50 games and is in the lineup due to an injury to Donald Brashear, more than held his own against Konopka.

“They changed (Martin) St. Louis right away, so I knew what time it was. He came after me right away. If that’s the way they wanted to start the game, that’s fine,” said Voros.

The left wing had a yellow bruise, interrupted only by a cut that required three stitches, form a semi-circle around his right eye, a memento from a late-game bout with Tampa power forward Ryan Malone. Voros estimated that the fight with Malone may have had to do with his slamming-the-stick-against-the-glass goal scoring celebration following his power play goal with 8:49 remaining. The goal increased the Rangers’ lead to 7-2. The goal was Voros’ first of the season.

“It was junk time. There’s so much that can happen. The second fight of the night I split my eye open. It’s little stuff like that. It’s meaningless time. All you’re going to do is end up banged up. I tried to stay away from it, but after I scored I was kind of overzealous hitting the glass, so if guys (aren’t) happy with that, I understand.”

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves, only allowing a controversial first period goal to Vinny Lecavalier and a second period power play strike to Alex Tanguay. Antero Nittymaki started in nets for Tampa. He was pulled after allowing five goals on 20 shots. Dustin Tokarski replaced Nittymaki and gave up three goals on 11 shots.


NOTES:

The Ottawa Sun speculated in its Sunday edition that the Lightning and Rangers could be talking about a potential blockbuster deal involving stud Tampa center Vinny Lecavalier. According to the newspaper, it would be a three-for-one deal, with defensemen Matt Gilroy and Wade Redden, along with either left wings Ryan Callahan or Brandon Dubinsky going to Tampa. In return, the Rangers would receive Lecavalier.

It is an interesting deal in theory. However, it is probably unrealistic as the deal does not make sense for either side. Tampa’s cap hit is $52 million while the Rangers are at $56 million. Should the trade come to fruition, Tampa would be at the cap max of $56.8 million. The Rangers would have a little flexibility, at $51 million, but Lecavalier would take up almost one-fifth of the payroll until the summer 2020-21. Lecavalier signed an 11 year, $85 million contract with Tampa in the summer of 2008.

Neither team as currently constructed is a Cup contender and the proposed deal would further accentuate their weaknesses. Tampa has defense corps with No. 2 overall pick Victor Hedman, along with veterans Mattias Ohlund and Andrej Meszaros. Where the Lighting need to improve is in goal.

For the already-blueline anorexic Rangers, the trade would deplete the undermanned unit. Also, for an organization that has publicly stated its commitment to rebuilding with youth, the trade would be a deviation from that plan.


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