|Lightning aim to cool off Kakko, Rangers|
Before they boarded a lengthy flight to Sweden, the Tampa Bay Lightning were awaiting the moment when things would come together and they would start playing complete games.
The Lightning experienced a successful trip to Europe and seek a third straight victory Thursday night when they host the New York Rangers in Tampa, Fla.
Starting with Thursday's game, the Lightning play 16 of their next 22 games on home ice where they are 2-1-1. They return home after posting 3-2 and 5-3 victories against the Buffalo Sabres in Stockholm on Friday and Saturday.
Tampa Bay has won three of its last four since a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in New York on Oct. 29. During the trip to Sweden, the Lightning trailed for only 7:32 while scoring three power-play goals.
"In a funny way, this was what our team needed," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "It was a very fun trip, to say the least. We definitely became tighter as a group this trip and you saw it on the ice with the way we played."
The trip to Sweden also provided Tampa Bay with ample practice time as it was able to complete four practices in five days. The Lightning are hoping there is a positive carryover effect, especially for players like reigning Hart Trophy recipient Nikita Kucherov, who scored Friday and only has five goals after totaling 41 and 128 points last season.
Tampa Bay returns home after getting two goals from Pat Maroon, a power-play tally by Victor Hedman and goals by Yanni Gourde and Mathieu Joseph.
"It's not just a one-night thing," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "It needs to be next Thursday and then it needs to be next Saturday. That's what we're looking for."
New York's win over the Lightning is part of its current hot stretch. The Rangers lost five straight games (0-4-1) from Oct. 12-22 but are 6-2-1 in their last nine contests entering a stretch where they play 11 of their next 16 on the road.
New York kept it going Tuesday with a 3-2 overtime home win over the Pittsburgh Penguins when rookie Kaapo Kakko scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime. According to NHL Stats and Information, he was the first 18-year-old with a multi-goal game in team history and has five of his six goals in the last seven games.
"Just talking to him, the way he walks around now, there's just a whole new level of swagger to him," New York coach David Quinn said of Kakko. "There's a comfort level that I think he's attaining, and you can see it in his face. There's a lot more smiling and a lot more swagger."
Kakko's hot streak is well-timed as the Rangers have been without Mika Zibanejad for the last seven games due to an upper-body injury. Zibanejad was injured on a hit by Boston's Patrice Bergeron on Oct. 27 and is expected to miss at least the next two games before possibly returning next week.
Without Zibanejad's presence, others are stepping up for the Rangers, who have 35 goals during their last nine games.
Artemi Panarin had an assist Tuesday and has four goals and nine assists during a career high-tying nine-game point streak.
Rookie Adam Fox scored New York's other goal and has two goals and four assists in his last five games while Ryan Strome has 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in his last 11 games.
Tampa Bay is 6-1-1 in the last eight meetings with the Rangers.
--Field Level Media