Prepping for the playoffs; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Toronto Maple Leafs preview

USA TODAY Sports

While the Bolts face back-to-back playoff-bound opponents, the team p[repares for the playoffs in it's own way -- just not at the NHL level. Meanwhile, in the points standings race...

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Fox Sports Florida, TSN, RDS (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Pension Plan Puppets, The Leafs Nation

The final back-to-back affair of the season gets underway tonight in Tampa as the Lightning face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and concludes in Boston tomorrow when Tampa Bay faces the Bruins in their make-up game.

Two games versus two playoff bound teams, lovely.

It's not like the Lightning aren't making preparations for the playoffs too, just not the 2013 NHL playoffs. The Lightning announced the signing of defenseman Mathieu Roy yesterday, a move for the remainder of the NHL season that enables the club to send defenseman Radko Gudas back to the Syracuse Crunch.

That demotion isn't a knock on Gudas in the least; the Lightning wants success at all levels and Syracuse is AHL playoffs bound. Gudas, along with current Bolts teammates Richard Panik, can be considered part of the Syracuse Crunch core. While the team is stacked with prospect talent at forward (Brett Connolly, J.T. Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Tanner Richard and AHL MVP and goal-scoring champion Tyler Johnson), they're a bit banged up on the defensive side.

Gudas has not been sent down as of this writing, and may not until tomorrow (or after tomorrow). Assistant GM Julien BriseBois expects them both to be back in Syracuse by Saturday.

While seeing Gudas demoted isn't going to be an encouraging move - Radko's impressed fans - it doesn't change the fact Gudas has a place on the TB roster (likely) for next season and that we're at a point where the entire franchise has to start planning for tomorrow, because things suck today.

Back to Roy: Because he played in Europe this season, he must clear waivers. Roy was placed on waivers yesterday at noon and will clear today (...unless someone wants to deliberately sabotage the Bolts plans - claiming Roy doesn't mean Roy can play for another team, it just stops him from joining Tampa). According to Erik Erlendsson, Roy will meet the team in Boston for tomorrow's game.

Ryan Malone appears to be out of action for tonight's game while Ben Bishop gets the start in net for the Bolts. Anders Lindback will get the nod (more than likely) tomorrow in Boston. For the Leafs? James Reimer will get the start in net. Optimus Reim is 18-6-5 with a 2.41 GAA and .926 save percentage.

I could and should be singing the praises of the Maple Leafs, who are bound for the playoffs for the first time since 2007, my focus is on the league-wide stats of note right now... And I don't mean where the Lightning and Leafs sit respectively. No, I'm looking at the Rocket Richard race as well as the Art Ross Trophy race.

Steven Stamkos is stalled, as you know, in the goal scoring statistic and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin is building on his lead; he has 31 goals as to Stamkos 28. Stamkos is banged up - how much isn't clear. He did cite a shoulder issue which will affect his decision to play in the World Championships in May. While Stamkos fades, others climb. John Tavares has 27 goals now and Jeff Carter has 26. The Islanders (Tavares) and Kings (Carter) and Capitals (Ovi) have two games left each while Tampa Bay has three.

As for the Art Ross Trophy, given to the league leader in overall points scored - Martin St. Louis is 2nd in the league with 55 points while Stamkos is 3rd with 54... But look out now, here comes Ovechkin. Alex has 53 points. All three players are still chasing the idled Sidney Crosby, who has 56 points.

The sad thing is neither St. Louis nor Stamkos' efforts will likely be acknowledged for the Hart Trophy - the overall league MVP. Playoff bound players like Ovi, Crosby and Tavares will likely be finalists (or Craig Anderson for Ottawa).

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Lightning 101

Full game coverage on SB Nation

Tickets -- Check Availability

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