Maple Leafs-Lightning Preview
While they were handed a couple of one-sided defeats at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this season, another one seems unlikely.
The Lightning try to avoid a third consecutive loss to the Maple Leafs, who visit Tampa seeking just their third win in 18 games overall Thursday night.
After allowing a combined 14 goals during an 0-2-1 skid, Tampa Bay (32-30-7) jumped out to a 5-0 lead Tuesday before defeating Boston 6-1. The 11th-place Lightning remain seven points behind Washington for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Stamkos joined Mike Bossy, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Alex Ovechkin and Joe Nieuwendyk as the only players to record two 50-goal seasons before the age of 23.
"It was a great, great feeling," said Stamkos, who has 13 goals and nine assists over his last 13 games. "It's something that I've worked hard to get to and hopefully (there will be) a lot more down the stretch and get us back in the (playoff) mix."
Tampa Bay looks to continue its postseason push against Toronto (30-32-8), which has surprisingly dominated the season series. The Leafs entered 2011-12 having lost 10 of the previous 13 meetings before winning both matchups this season and scoring seven goals in each, though neither game came in the past two months.
Another high-scoring display could prove hard to produce. The Leafs, who sat in seventh place in the East a little over a month ago, have been held to an average of 2.1 goals during a 2-13-2 skid to drop into 12th.
After suffering back-to-back shutouts, Toronto dropped to 0-4-1 over its last five with Tuesday's 5-2 loss at Florida. The Leafs had killed all 10 of their opponents' power-play opportunities over a six-game stretch before the Panthers converted two of four chances on the man advantage.
"Penalty killing has been one of our strong suits in the last little while and it sprung a leak," coach Randy Carlyle said. "You can't give up five goals and expect to win in the NHL."
Despite going 1-6-3 with a 3.03 goals-against average in his last 12 games, Jonas Gustavsson could be back in goal Thursday. Gustavsson made 27 saves in a 7-1 victory at Tampa Bay on Nov. 22 before stopping 21 shots in 7-3 home win over the Lightning on Jan. 3.
Dustin Tokarski, who has started each of Tampa Bay's last three games, made 33 saves Tuesday in earning his first career win.
"It's great for him," coach Guy Boucher told the team's official website. "It's a relief for him to get that first win for his team. It was real important for our players and it was great. We have an incredible team spirit in here and these guys care about each other deeply. They never waver."
Tampa Bay has taken six of eight on its own ice. In the midst of a seven-game homestand, the Lightning host NHL-leading St. Louis, Buffalo, Edmonton and the New York Islanders following this contest.