Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME #77
Time: 8:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN, TSN4
Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets
After losing to the Detroit Red Wings, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s lead over the Boston Bruins had been cut down to one point, meaning that a first-round match-up against Toronto is not quite a lock. Ironically, the best way for the Bolts to play the Leafs in the first round is to beat the Leafs tonight.
Inconsistency has been the Lightning’s main issue over the past two months. The Lightning played a very dominant first period against the Red Wings two days ago, but fell apart in the remaining time, ending up with a 4-3 loss to Detroit. It’s not the only time this has happened, as there have been a handful of situations where the Lightning put themselves in the hole. Out of ten latest games, the Bolts won only four games and since the beginning of March the Lightning are 21st in the league by point percentage. Their record against playoff teams over that span is also pretty depressing — out of 11 total games against teams already qualified for the postseason or sitting in a playoff spot currently they’ve won just one game (against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 29).
The latest loss to Detroit could also trigger some line changes on the Lightning’s roster. Jon Cooper has been sticking to the Paul-Point-Kucherov top line recently and if that line had been working pretty fine before that game, their performance was quiet frustrating against the Red Wings — the trio posted just 37.01 xGF% on that night. On the other hand, the decision of promoting Ross Colton to the second line has paid off so far. The 25-year-old forward has quietly emerged into solid middle-six forward in his second season with the Lightning and recorded two assists against Detroit.
Tonight’s game against Leafs will be very challenging in many ways as the Lightning will try to break this run of poor play. The Bolts also have a chance to even their season series: currently the Leafs leading them 2-1 after a very confident 6-2 win just two weeks ago. Since that game the Leafs have lost just two times in eight games (against the NHL leading Florida Panthers in overtime and, surprisingly, against the Buffalo Sabres). Currently Toronto is on a four-game winning streak.
The Leafs’ biggest star and this year’s Hart Trophy favorite Auston Matthews is, however, questionable for this game. Matthews missed two previous games with an undisclosed injury and the team doesn’t want to rush their biggest offensive weapon ahead of the playoffs and will give him all the time he needs to recover. Moreover, with eight-point lead over the Lightning and eight-point deficit to the Panthers, the Leafs shouldn’t worry about the standings anymore, as the team almost secured a home ice advantage in the first round.
Matthews isn’t not the only missing Leafs player. Ondrej Kase has been out since mid-March with a concussion. Petr Mrazek isn’t available due to re-aggravating his groin injury. Jake Muzzin has also been in and out of their injured reserve due to multiple injuries, which limited him only to 45 games this season. Another defenceman Rasmus Sandin has also been out for almost a month. Although The Leafs’ defensive depth allowed them to replace both blueliners without any issue — a recently acquired players Ilya Lyubushkin and Mark Giordano have been great replacements.
Tampa Bay Lightning Potential Lines
Nick Paul - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Ross Colton
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Brandon Hagel
Patrick Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Zach Bogosian
Toronto Maple Leafs Potential Lines
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Colin Blackwell
Pierre Engvall - Alexander Kerfoot - William Nylander
Michael Bunting - Nick Abruzzese - Mitch Marner
Wayne Simmonds - David Kampf - Jason Spezza
Morgan Reilly - Ilya Lyubushkin
T.J. Brodie - Justin Holl
Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren