Bolts can't take their vacation just yet; Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning preview

WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Pension Plan Puppets

For the next week, there will be no hockey, with the exception being in Raleigh for the All-Star festivities. A nice, long, mid-season rest for a team that's had its ups and downs this season so far through 50 games.

But before vacation plans are implemented, before people take off for home or foreign ports, before that break begins -- the Lightning have to square off against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Remember how I said late last week that you have to respect your opponent? This is another example of it. The Leafs have not been world beaters this season, their place in the standings prove it... But how many loses has the Lightning suffered against non-playoff teams?

Add to it the possibility of distraction (looming time off), and underestimation of an opponent coming off a loss (the Leafs lost to the Hurricanes, 6-4)... And if you're not careful, you're going to let two points slip away.

Things aren't over until the work is done. And there's work to do at Times Palace tonight.

Before I get into the preview of the game, let me announce some of the big news that was postponed yesterday: Hot dogs. The release is real (Kayem is now the official hot dog vendor at the St. Pete Times Forum), as is Bryan Reynolds satirical response to the news.

OK, now to get down to business:

30 - 15 - 5

Won 4

65 points through 50 games played, that's only 15 points behind the total of 80 the Lightning amassed last season. That's 23 points away from 88 -- which was what it took to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference last season.

32 games left, a potential for 64 points. To inch into the playoffs (using 88 points as the benchmark), the Lightning will only have to have a .359 win percentage between now and the end of the season. 11 and a half games (consider that a OTL). I would think Bolts fans would be confident enough to believe the Lightning can pull that off.

Dwayne Roloson should get the start in net for the Lightning tonight, and at the other end of the ice, rookie James Reimer is expected to start for the Leafs. I have not heard anything about Ryan Malone's status for tonight, and will assume he's going to be scratched. He was kept out of the shelling of Atlanta on Sunday.

One last note: The Maple Leafs are in 26th place on the penalty kill, shutting down opposing power plays 77.8% of the time. The Lightning capitalized on one of only two opportunities in Sunday's win, and you know they are looking to right the power play... I don't want to underestimate a poorly performing penalty kill, but the Bolts need practice with the man advantage. Toronto is averaging 12.2 penalty minutes a game...

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Bolts by the Bay

Full game coverage on SB Nation

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