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Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs preview: In the home stretch now

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The most likely first round playoff matchup...

NHL: FEB 25 Maple Leafs at Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs: GAME 70

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Scotiabank Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: TVAS, TSN4, SUN

Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets

Preview:

The Tampa Bay Lightning will wrap up both their road trip and fifth straight game against a division opponent tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It’s the third of four meetings between the two teams this season — each team has one win in the season series so far. Both teams head into tonight’s game looking to rebound from tough losses on the road.

The Lightning had a huge opportunity over the last few games to close the gap between themselves and the Boston Bruins for first in the division — and did so with a win over them on Saturday. Unfortunately, they dropped their game the next day against the Detroit Red Wings, but did get an important shootout point. The gap is currently six points, and the difference remains the number of extra points Boston picked up from losses in overtime or the shootout, because both teams have the same number of wins.

Meanwhile, the Leafs returned from their California road trip having picked up just one of a possible six points in the standings. In that span, the Florida Panthers have closed the gap between them and Toronto for third in the Atlantic. Despite getting near-perfect goaltending, Toronto’s offense went bone-dry in Anaheim and Los Angeles. The Leafs shuffled their lines yesterday in hopes of waking up their offense tonight against the Bolts.

Ryan McDonagh returned from injury on Sunday and it looks like Jan Rutta isn’t far behind, which is good news, because the defense pair of Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn isn’t going to cut it for the Lightning. They did lose Victor Hedman to injury (again) over the weekend, but based on line rushes this morning, it looks as though he’ll draw back into the lineup tonight.

The Leafs’ blueline is on the mend, as well. Cody Ceci returned last week and Morgan Rielly will draw back into the lineup for the first time since breaking his foot in mid-January. Toronto struggled mightily in their own end without both of them (and things went from bad to worse when Jake Muzzin was also injured), so the Bolts will be facing a healthier and motivated Leafs defense group tonight.

Tampa Bay and Toronto will meet again for the final time this season in a couple of weeks. Both teams desperately need the two points tonight — the Leafs to fend off the Panthers, and the Lightning to catch the Bruins — and are looking to rebound from losses. There’s no shortage of drama and intensity when these two teams play each other, and it’s looking more likely that this will be the first round matchup in the playoffs.

Update

Elliotte Friedman is reporting that Victor Hedman will not play again tonight

He seemed to be skating on a regular pair and was part of the second power play unit so the team must have seen something after practice that made them want to be careful. That means we’re in for another night of either Braydon Coburn or Luke Schenn playing with Zach Bogosian.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

Kasperi Kapanen - John Tavares - Mitch Marner

Pierre Engvall - Alexander Kerfoot - Denis Malgin

Kyle Clifford - Frederik Gauthier - Jason Spezza

Injured: Ilya Mikheyev

Defense Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Cody Ceci

Travis Dermott - Justin Holl

Rasmus Sandin - Tyson Barrie

Calle Rosen - Martin Marincin

Injured: Jake Muzzin

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Jack Campbell

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Blake Coleman

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Nikita Kucherov

Carter Verhaeghe - Tyler Johnson - Yanni Gourde

Patrick Maroon - Cedric Paquette - Barclay Goodrow

Mitchell Stephens

Defense Pairings

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - Kevin Shattenkirk

Luke Schenn - Zach Bogosian

Braydon Coburn

Injured: Jan Rutta, Victor Hedman

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney