Kathy Willens, File
November 16, 2014

The last time the Tampa Bay Lightning visited Madison Square Garden, they advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.

This time, a playoff spot will suffice.

The Lightning will try to bounce back from their first loss without Steven Stamkos and clinch a postseason berth Tuesday night against the playoff-bound New York Rangers.

Tampa Bay (45-29-5) has split two matchups with New York this season, but both have come at home - including a 5-2 defeat Dec. 30.

The Lightning have won their last three visits to MSG, all during last year's conference final. The most poignant victory, however, came in Game 7 when Tampa Bay did all of the scoring in the third period to beat the Rangers 2-0.

The stakes aren't nearly as high Tuesday, but the Lightning just need one point to secure a third straight trip to the postseason and second place in the Atlantic Division. They're four points ahead of third-place Detroit and five in front of Boston for the East's playoff cutoff with three games remaining in the regular season.

While reaching the playoffs seems like a formality, the Lightning have split two games since losing Stamkos for 1 to 3 months due to surgery necessary to remove a blood clot near his right collarbone.

His absence wasn't entirely the issue Monday when Tampa Bay failed to clinch a playoff spot with a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders in the opener of this season-ending four-game trip.

"We gave up four breakaways in the second period," coach Jon Cooper said. "We weren't shooting and ultimately we would spend time in their zone and they'd get a breakaway and score. ... That was the tough part to watch because they were working their tails off. They were competing, they were battling and we just weren't working smart enough."

Victor Hedman is trying to pick up the scoring slack with Stamkos out, scoring one goal in each of the last two games while adding an assist. The defenseman has 10 points over the past nine games, matching his output from the previous 23.

He doesn't have a point in his last two games at the Garden after collecting seven in the six prior.

The Rangers (44-26-9) can sympathize with the Lightning on their plight to return to the playoffs. They finally made it on their third attempt, beating Columbus 4-2 on Monday to snap an 0-2-1 skid

"It's tough to get to the dance," coach Alain Vigneault said. "People don't realize how hard it is to be able to get an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup. We finally got our checkmark. We can still work for home ice and that's what we're going to try and do."

New York, though, might have suffered a major blow against the Blue Jackets since captain Ryan McDonagh left in the first period with an upper-body injury after blocking a shot. He'll be re-evaluated Tuesday.

While the Rangers mull over the defenseman's availability, they're also trying to avoid dropping into a wild-card spot. They're third in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the fourth-place Islanders with three games to go - one fewer than the crosstown rival.

Chris Kreider has four goals and three assists over the past five games after getting one of each Monday.

Mats Zuccarello has also put together a scoring surge with four goals and two assists in seven games. He had a goal at Tampa Bay in December after failing to get a point in a 2-1 loss Nov. 19.

Kreider missed a penalty shot in that matchup.

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