Maple Leafs-Lightning Preview
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ chances to reach the playoffs for a second straight season have all but slipped away, and now they’ll be without one of their top goal scorers.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have ensured themselves a postseason appearance, but they’ve looked complacent since.
Toronto won’t have Joffrey Lupul on the ice Tuesday night when it needs to win to stay alive in the Eastern Conference race in a visit to Tampa.
Lupul, who has 22 goals and 22 assists in 69 games, needs knee surgery and will miss the rest of the regular season.
It appears an eight-game losing streak from March 16-29 will prove to be the Maple Leafs’ undoing. Toronto (38-33-8) followed it by winning back-to-back games against Calgary and Boston last week, but a 4-2 home defeat to Winnipeg on Saturday leaves the club needing to win out and get help from the two teams ahead of it for the second wild-card spot.
The Leafs also have only three games left, while the teams they’re chasing, Columbus and New Jersey, each had one in hand going into Monday’s action.
All three of Toronto’s remaining contests are on the road, where it’s lost four in a row.
"You never know. We still have three games left and we’re going to play hard," said forward Phil Kessel, who tied a career high with his 37th goal Saturday.
He owns a 10-game point streak against Tampa Bay with three goals and eight assists.
The Maple Leafs had won seven of nine in the series, including this season’s first two matchups, prior to a 5-3 home loss March 19 in which Steven Stamkos recorded his seventh career hat trick.
Tampa Bay (42-27-9) has lost three of four – all in regulation – and two straight at home since clinching a playoff spot last Tuesday to cap a 7-0-2 stretch. The Lightning trailed 3-0 after one period in a 5-2 defeat to Dallas on Saturday, and they’ve been outscored 8-1 in the first period of the past four games.
Prior to that stretch, the Lightning had outscored opponents by 13 on the season, which ranked sixth in the league.
"Hopefully this is out of our system and we can come down from our high chair after making the playoffs and realize that there are other teams that are coming and can catch us," said Stamkos, who scored his 24th goal in his 33rd game of the season Saturday.
Stamkos has 13 goals and 12 assists in 20 career games against Toronto.
The Lightning’s Ben Bishop has surrendered three or more goals in four of his last six starts against the Maple Leafs. Toronto’s James Reimer, subbing for the injured Jonathan Bernier, has gone 2-8-0 with a 4.27 goals-against average in his past 12 games – nine starts.
The Leafs’ Nazem Kadri has scored in back-to-back games after totaling three goals in his previous 20 contests, while Tyler Bozak has two goals and five assists during a six-game point streak against Tampa Bay.
The Maple Leafs, though, have gone 0 for their last 21 power-play chances in the series.