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Year-end clearance; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Toronto Maple Leafs preview

The last game at Amalie Arena in 2014 is also the last game of the first half at home for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Where:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When:7:30 PM EST  | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports  (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Pension Plan Puppets, The Leafs Nation, Blue and White Brotherhood

The weight of the Atlantic Division is heavy in the second half of the Lightning's season, we've already told you this last week. Proof of it looms over the next several games - the next four of five, starting tonight, are against Atlantic Division foes, and six of the next eight for that matter.  While Tampa Bay is atop the division at the moment, they are also a single point over the Detroit Red Wings and a scant two points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens.

The Maple Leafs, who are playing on the road while the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships are being played in Toronto (in part), arrive in Tampa licking the wounds from a four-goal collapse at the hands of the Florida Panthers last night. The Leafs are three points behind the Habs for the final playoff spot in the division right now, but their inconsistent play keeps them on the outside, looking in.

Last night also marked the return of former Lightning prospect Carter Ashton to the Leafs lineup after his 20-game suspension for performance enhancing drug use.

Oh, and they're worried about the mumps just as much as the Lightning training staff is. Goalie Jonathan Bernier missed last night with flu-like symptoms, but traveled with the team from south Florida to Tampa this morning. Is this a good thing? Well, if it's the standard flu bug instead of the mumps, it's quite refreshing in a sickly sort of way. If Bernier has contracted the mumps (and Leafs coach Randy Carlyle's quoted remark in the above link isn't very clear) he would be the first Maple Leafs player to fall ill to the virus. The Leafs are denying that Bernier's showing signs of the mumps, though.

Speaking of illness and mumps fears, Jonathan Drouin - who was listed as doubtful for tonight's game yesterday - participated in the morning skate on Steven Stamkos' left wing. Some more remarks on his status should come out by the time this preview is published.  We'll keep you updated on that. As it stands, he's a game time decision but Bolts beat writer Erik Erlendsson expects Dro' to be a go. Drouin was sent home from the morning skate on Saturday with an undisclosed illness that people feared was the mumps but was indicated to be the same stomach bug that inundated and sidelined Radko Gudas and Tyler Johnson earlier this month.

On the other hand, Jason Garrison remains MIA with his undisclosed injury. He had remarked on Saturday that he expected to be back for today's contest against the Leafs, but that doesn't look like it's in the cards.

Garrison wasn't the only player missing from practice this morning as Ondrej Palat took a "body maintenance" day.  Coach Jon Cooper indicated that Palat is a bit banged up and will be a game time decision for this one.

So, for the curious, here's how lines were squared up this morning for the Lightning:

Toronto has the 9th ranked power play unit at the moment, converting on 20.3% of opportunities, while the Lightning's unit is floundering (I'm being generous with that assessment) while falling like a stone in league rankings. On the other side of the coin, the Lightning penalty kill is 14th in the NHL with an 84.7 kill-efficiency. It's just a mite worse than Toronto's 10th ranked kill-un, who is stopping 85.5% of opposing power plays. If this game is going to be laden with power play opportunities, the Bolts would have to be hopeful the back-to-back aspect of the game works in their favor.

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