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NHL Preview from The Sports Network

Saturday, December 23rd (All times eastern)

New York Rangers (18-14-4) at Tampa Bay Lightning (16-17-2), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The New York Rangers continue what has been an up-and-down month of December tonight in Tampa Bay, where the Lightning host the struggling Blueshirts at St. Pete Times Forum.

The Rangers had moved into the Atlantic Division's top spot on the strength of a five-game winning streak earlier this month, but the inconsistent club has since lost four straight contests and now trails New Jersey by one point for first place.

The slide is New York's longest since it dropped the final five games to conclude the 2005-06 regular season.

New York appeared on its way to ending the streak on Thursday, taking a two- goal lead into the third period of its road matchup with Florida. The Panthers then struck three times in the final session to pull out a 3-2 victory.

The Rangers had been 12-0-2 this season when leading after two periods.

New York's goals came from unlikely sources, as Brad Isbister netted his first of the year while Jason Ward recorded his third tally of the season.

Kevin Weekes stopped 33 shots in place of Henrik Lundqvist, who was unavailable for the second straight game because of a stomach flu. Center Michael Nylander has sat out the team's last three contests due to the same virus. Lundqvist is expected to return tonight, but Nylander won't likely come back until after Christmas.

The Rangers were also without defenseman Marek Malik, who hasn't played since leaving Sunday's game with New Jersey with a groin strain. The blueliner is questionable for this evening's contest.

Tampa Bay had a four-game losing streak of its own earlier this month, but the Lightning have since turned things around by posting consecutive road wins. After earning a 5-4 decision Tuesday at Washington, Tampa Bay rallied for three third-period goals to post a 4-2 triumph over Ottawa on Thursday.

Paul Ranger netted the game-winner with around 11 minutes to play and added an assist for the Lightning, who also received goals from Martin St. Louis, Ruslan Fedotenko and Vincent Lecavalier.

St. Louis has now recorded a goal in five straight games and has amassed seven markers and seven assists during a current seven-game point streak. Lecavalier has also been hot of late, compiling 10 goals and 10 helpers over his last 11 games.

New York bested the Lightning by a 4-1 count at Madison Square Garden last month but has lost in four of its last six visits to Tampa.

12/23 10:57:24 ET

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