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A different kind of dregs; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Toronto Maple Leafs preview

The Lightning face the club at dead-last in the NHL at the moment... Who hasn't exactly played that bad against the likes of Tampa Bay.

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Val Filppula will be back in the fray tonight.
Val Filppula will be back in the fray tonight.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7:30 PM EDT
Radio: 970 AM WFLA - Online Stream | Television: Fox Sports Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Pension Plan PuppetsLeas NationBlue and White Brotherhood

You'll see the Tampa Bay Lightning in their BOLTS garb tonight as the club takes on the also-ran, bottom-dwelling, blue-and-white brotherhood of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are rock-bottom of the NHL at the moment and... well, are they? Are they really? Serious question, those are not meant at mocking or anything. Take a look at the standings as of this morning:

3.28.2016 bottom five

The dregs of the NHL!

74 games played gives them games in-hand on every other bottom-five team, especially the Edmonton Oilers (what is it with the schedule that gives the club only 4 games left? The fact this is Rexall Place's last season?). In fact, it's Edmonton's advanced pace in the schedule and Toronto's games in-hand on them that pretty much tells you that unless a deliberate tank-job takes place for the remainder of the season, Toronto will not likely end the season dead-last in the league. Heck, only the Calgary Flames have a solider goal-differential (yes, it's still bad: -33 as to -36 by Toronto). The point is, by reputation (and TSN/Sportsnet/others hyping the bad) the Maple Leafs are a more capable club than their place in the standings makes them look to be.

(And for anyone who sees that above paragraph as me trying to make a case for Steven Stamkos to go to the Maple Leafs in free agency, you can go to hell.)

There's also the factor that the Lightning were defeated by at the hands of the Maple Leafs when the two  clubs squared off at Air Canada Centre a few weeks ago that should sell Lightning fans on being wary of tonight. Want to further have your worries stoked? The Leafs have outscored the Lightning in their season series, 8-7. Both Lightning wins in the three games played this season - back in December and January—were one goal affairs (5-4 in overtime and 1-0).

It's the above factors as well as the fact this is the third game in four nights for the Lightning that are cause for concern and knowing this isn't a gimmie game because Toronto is in last place. It is the series conclusion for the season but it's a test of Tampa Bay's mettle. To endure and overcome their bumps and bruises and drained stamina to earn 2 points is the challenge of the night.

Speaking of bumps and bruises and tested mettle, Valtteri Filppula will be back in the lineup tonight per coach Jon Cooper. Filp's been out since the aforementioned road trip werke the Bolts lost to the Leafs and...

Wait, what?

Maybe that's confirmation of Vladislav Namestnikov's play in Filppula's place as center on the third line (Cooper likes him) or perhaps it's a necessary switch-attempt because of the Lightning struggling against Florida offensively? Filppula centering the top line with Stamkos shifted to wing (helped along by the missing availability of Nikita Kucherov, who remains out after blocking a shot against the New York Islanders Friday) just seems a little off. While Stammer has had his moments on the wing this season, he just hasn't been at his best when on that role.

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