Rangers reunion against Lightning Thursday

J.T. Miller scored his first goal as a member of the Lightning on Saturday. He has three points in his last two games. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
J.T. Miller scored his first goal as a member of the Lightning on Saturday. He has three points in his last two games. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published March 8
Updated March 8

TAMPA – Rangers C Vladislav Namestnikov had dinner Wednesday night with good friend and former Lightning teammate Nikita Kucherov.

They went to their favorite sushi place, Mateo's, in Hyde Park. The split the tab.

"Our old spot," Namestnikov said.

There were a lot of old faces in new places Thursday night, with Namestnikov facing the Lightning for the first time since being involved in the Feb. 26 blockbuster with New York.

"It's a whole bunch of emotions," Namestnikov said. "It's obviously exciting to be back."

Like Namestnikov, a Lightning first-round pick in 2011, new Tampa Bay F J.T Miller was drafted and groomed by the Rangers before parting part of the same trade. Just as Miller felt he was putting the trade behind him, this reunion sparked memories.

"It's going to be weird," Miller said. "We're all human. It sucked to leave so many friends behind, but it's a business."

Both Namestnikov and Miller have fit in well with their new teams. Namestnikov, who has settled into an apartment in the Battery Park area, had a goal and an assist in his Rangers debut. Miller entered Thursday with five points in his previous three games, all on a line with Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde.

"They're good players," Miller said. "I just try to give them a puck."

MCDONAGH UPDATE

D Ryan McDonagh, the former Rangers captain, did not play, however.
While McDonagh, 28, continues to practice with the Lightning, he is still not expected to return until next week. Coach Jon Cooper said he's not sure if McDonagh will return Tuesday against Ottawa, or Mar. 17 against Boston.

DECISION TIME

Backup G Peter Budaj (lower body injury), on a conditioning assignment with AHL Syracuse, is expected to start for the Crunch tonight against Rochester. Budaj, out since Dec. 29, can be on this assignment for three games or six days, so might play again Sunday. The Lightning will have to decide soon whether Budaj or Louis Domingue is their backup. Tampa Bay could trade one of them, though they wouldn't be eligible to play the rest of the season. With no roster limits, the Lightning could keep them both, but carrying three goalies isn't ideal. Should be interesting.

SLAP SHOTS
*Slater Koekkoek and Jake Dotchin returned to the lineup, with Braydon Coburn and Andrej Sustr healthy scratches. Cedric Paquette also drew back in, scoring a goal. It's important to keep these players fresh in case an injury pops up down the stretch.

*G Andrei Vasilevskiy, who admitted to the Times he's dealing with some mental and physical fatigue, got the start Thursday. But expect Domingue to start Saturday against the Canadiens. Tampa Bay has two games in seven days next week, giving Vasilevskiy more of a breather.

*LW Ondrej Palat (lower body) continues to skate with the team but is still a ways from returning. Palat, believed to be dealing with a high ankle sprain, said they don't want to rush him back, but he hopes to get in a few games before the playoffs.

*Cool moment with D Dan Girardi's son, Landon, who was the "Be the Thunder" kid before the game Thursday, his eighth birthday. The father and son got to stand side-by-side during the national anthem.

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] [email protected]_JSmith.

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