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Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview: The board is set

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Thirteen games remain and every win matters.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs (31-23-14 76 pts) at Tampa Bay Lightning (34-26-9 77 pts) GAME 70

Time: 7:30pm EST

Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida

Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, SNO

Opponent SB Nation Site: Pension Plan Puppets

Previous Game Musings

Only one thing needs to be mentioned about the last game against Ottawa: our big wonderful Swede Victor Hedman.

Preview

This is it, everyone, the final stretch of games that will either end in disappointment or joy. Thirteen games remain before the 2016-2017 regular season ends, and the Tampa Bay Lightning have done what was at one point thought to be implausible. Prior to the trade deadline the Lightning were 28-25-8 for 64 points and sitting behind 4 teams for a playoff spot, yet now they’re tied for the final wild-card spot after going 6-1-1 since the previously mentioned deadline.

Words cannot properly describe the play of this team of late. The defense has resembled a form of actual competency while the offense has continued to click at a solid rate, but the most joyful thing to come of these past eight games has been the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy has gone 5-1-0 with a Goals Against Average (GAA) of 1.50 and a Save Percentage (SV%) of 0.954 in his last six starts, and this is just phenomenal from our Russian netminder.

With Tampa’s rise through the standings and the other playoff hopefuls faltering, we arrive at tonight’s huge game. The Toronto Maple Leafs are in town this evening fresh off a beatdown from our friendly neighbors to the south in Sunrise. The Maple Leafs currently sit one point behind the Lightning which means this game has a massive level of importance for both clubs. A win will give the Lightning a small cushion as they continue their push for the playoffs, while a loss would push Toronto ahead of Tampa Bay and make the remaining twelve games even more stressful.

Toronto comes into tonight’s matchup with a 4-3-3 record in their last ten games while scoring 25 goals and allowing 33. The Leafs have been an odd team this season, a youthful team that bolsters a top ten offense with 206 goals (9th), yet is anchored by a bottom five defense with 206 goals allowed (25th). Special teams have been a strong area for Toronto this season as they have the 2nd best power-play at 23.5% and the 9th best penalty kill at 82.9%.

Looking at some advanced metrics shows a Toronto team that is middle of the road when it comes to shot share with a Corsi For% of 50.07% (15th), but are a top ten team in expected goal share with an xGF% of 51.85% (8th). This shows that even though Toronto might not be elite when it comes to generating more shots than their opponent they convert the opportunities they do get quite well. This Maple Leafs team might be in a middle of some sloppy play, but this is a team that will bury anyone in the NHL if taken lightly. Expect the Leafs to be ready to play tonight after getting embarrassed by the Panthers Tuesday night.

Conversely, Tampa Bay’s last ten has been very strong with a record of 7-2-1 while scoring 27 goals and allowing 20. Despite the improvement in play over the last ten games, the Lightning are still stuck in the middle of the league in offense and defense with 191 goals scored (16th) and 187 goals allowed (15th). The power-play continues to be a top five unit at 22.4% (4th) while the penalty kill proceeds to scratch its way to respectability at 80.9% (14th).

Eyeing the numbers for the Lightning shows a team that is firmly in the upper tier of teams in the NHL. Tampa Bay’s Corsi For% is currently at 51.12% (8th) while their xGF% is at 50.94% (11th). This shows that the Lightning is a team that normally outshoots their opponents, but isn’t always getting the highest quality chances. This doesn’t doom the Lightning against better teams, especially with some skill players out of the lineup, however, it is something to be aware of.

This is the Lightning’s (and the Maple Leafs’) biggest game of the season and one the Lightning must win if they want to make their lives easier moving forward. A loss doesn’t kill their playoff chances, but losing to a divisional opponent with so few games left would not be the wisest move going forward. Tampa Bay has continued to win even with their backs against the wall and a win this evening will further prove that this group of players can do what ten games ago seemed implausible. Hop on board everybody, this team needs all of us to back them up as they continue their march towards the playoffs.

Byron Froese was reassigned to AHL Syracuse for about a minute before being recalled. This likely means that Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette, and Vladislav Namestnikov are still unable to play.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Jonathan Drouin - Yanni Gourde

Gabriel Dumont - Greg McKegg - J.T. Brown

Adam Erne - Byron Froese - Luke Witkowski

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner

Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown

Matt Martin - Brian Boyle - Nikita Soshnikov

Defense

Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner - Alexey Marchenko

Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney