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Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning preview: The Atlantic showdown we’ve all been waiting for

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It’s about time these two teams played, right?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game 33

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, SNO, TVAS

Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets

Preview:

It’s about time the two best teams in the Eastern Conference faced off. After a 6-3 drubbing of the New York Rangers on Monday, the Bolts got some much-needed rest heading into tonight’s game. The Lightning have been averaging 4.7 goals a game since November 15th and haven’t missed a beat without Andrei Vasilevskiy. Speaking of Vasy, there’s about a 50/50 chance he makes his return tonight against Toronto. Jon Cooper said yesterday it will be up to how Vasilevskiy feels tomorrow, and we should have an answer by morning skate.

The Leafs, meanwhile, snapped a two-game losing streak against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday in a 4-1 victory and haven’t lost three straight games this season. But their performances as of late have not been so threatening. They looked lost against Detroit and were crushed by Boston. So despite a better showing against Carolina, they’ve been struggling to find their identity lately.

William Nylander finally got on the scoresheet in his third game this season, and Zach Hyman will sit out the second of his two-game suspension for his hit on Charlie McAvoy on Saturday. Despite combining for a goal on Tuesday, Mitch Marner and John Tavares haven’t looked great in the last week. The Leafs blue line continues to reveal more issues. Although they’re carrying eight defensemen right now, there hasn’t been a personnel change on the back-end since November 1st.

Meanwhile, the Lightning have been stomping over the entire NHL, entering tonight on a seven-game winning streak and having scored 37 goals in that span. Tampa has 13 goals in their last two games alone. Anthony Cirelli has four goals in his last three games, and Steven Stamkos has five in the last two. They boast an 11-2-0 record since Vasilevskiy’s injury. If they can get him back for tonight’s game, that spells a lot more trouble for the Leafs.

Both teams have taken down opponents simply by outscoring them. However, the Lightning are far better at defending and are at the top of the league in puck possession. On the other hand, the Leafs are a middling possession team and allow way more shots than what is necessary (or good). Both teams are fairly evenly matched in terms of offense and goaltending (if Vasilevskiy plays). Defensive play is what separates the two, so whoever’s blue line rises to the occasion will be the team walking away with two points. But to whichever team ends up dropping this one, there will be three more opportunities this season to return the favour.

And, of course, an entire second-round series in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Yanni Gourde

Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller

Mathieu Joseph - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Scratched: Danick Martel, Adam Erne

Defense

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Scratched: Slater Koekkoek

Injured: Anton Stralman

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

Connor Brown - John Tavares - Mitchell Marner

Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander

Par Lindholm - Frederik Gauthier - Tyler Ennis

Scratched: Zach Hyman (suspended)

Defense

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev

Travis Dermott - Igor Ozhiganov

Scratched: Martin Marincin, Justin Holl

Goalies

Frederik Andersen

Garret Sparks