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Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning: Another potential playoff preview

The Lightning host the Leafs in an Atlantic division matchup

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

Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME 73

Time: 7:30 PM EDT

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SUN

Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets

Preview:

Tonight, the Toronto Maple Leafs come to Amalie Arena to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lighting still sit in first place in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference with 102 points while Leafs are in third with 93. With Bolts holding just a three point advantage over the Bruins with one less game to play, this game could easily be a preview of the first round of the playoffs.

The Lightning are coming off one of their most dominant games of the season beating the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 on Sunday evening. That win followed back-to-back frustrating losses and showcased a potential return to form for the Bolts. They played much better defensively and completely shut down the Oilers for the final two periods.

Being able to replicate that performance against the Leafs is unlikely. Toronto is much better coached and features a depth of skill far superior to the Oilers. Even without injured first-line center Auston Matthews, the Leafs will present a challenge with four lines that can all generate offense.

In some ways, these teams are similar. Both are built on excellent forward depth. Both also have clear weaknesses at the blue line and specifically on the right side. Games between these teams tend to be played at an exceptional pace featuring plenty of chances for both teams. Mike Babcock and Jon Cooper also have quite a history going back to when Babcock was in Detroit so both teams will be familiar with the other’s systems and tactics.

Diving into the numbers, both teams look good on paper and have been playing well recently. The dots for both teams on shot share and expected goal share in the “good” range for the last ten games meaning that they’ve been among the league leaders in those areas over the past couple of weeks.

For the Leafs, their strength is clearly on offense. They generate tons of high quality shots and put lots of pressure on the opposition. Their defense lags a little and that drags down their overall numbers. Recently, they’ve reversed that trend putting up much better defensive numbers with still above average offense.

The Lightning are a bit of a mirror image with stronger defensive numbers but relying more on shooting talent to drive their offense. The Leafs offense will be a big test for this new version of the Bolts blue line with Ryan McDonagh. This game will give an idea as to whether the improvements against Edmonton were real or just the product of facing a team headed for the lottery with nothing left to win this season.

The other key for the Lightning tonight will be the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy. He has struggled for the last few weeks. Those struggles have been exacerbated at times by poor defense. If the team in front of him can provide a similar performance to what they managed in front of backup Louis Domingue on Sunday, that might be the help Vasilevskiy needs to get back to playing well.

Much like the game against Boston on Saturday, this is another potential playoff series preview. The last one didn’t go well. The Bolts will be looking for a better showing and result tonight.

UPDATE: ONDREJ PALAT WILL RETURN TO THE LINEUP TONIGHT!!!!!!!

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Adam Erne

Chris Kunitz - Anthony Cirelli - Ryan Callahan

Cedric Paquette - Cory Conacher

Defense

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Mikhail Sergachev - Braydon Coburn

Slater Koekkoek- Jake Dotchin

Andrej Sustr

Goaltending

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner

Zach Hyman - William Nylander - Andreas Johnsson

James Van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown

Josh Leivo - Tomas Plekanec - Kasperi Kapanen

Defense

Morgan Reilly - Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak

Travis Dermott - Connor Carrick

Goaltending

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney