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Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview and Game Day Thread

A potential preview for the first round of the playoffs

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images

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

Forwards

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

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - Zach Bogosian

Goaltender

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

Toronto Maple Leafs Potential Lines

Forwards

Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Colin Blackwell

Pierre Engvall - Alexander Kerfoot - William Nylander

Michael Bunting - Nick Abruzzese - Mitch Marner

Wayne Simmonds - David Kampf - Jason Spezza

Defense

Morgan Reilly - Ilya Lyubushkin

T.J. Brodie - Justin Holl

Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren

Goaltenders

Jack Campbell

Erik Kallgren