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Playoff jockeying against cellar dwelling; Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs preview

Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario | When: 7:30 PM EDT
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: Fox Sports Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Pension Plan Puppets, Blue and White Brotherhood, Leafs Nation

With some thanks to the New York Islanders, the Tampa Bay Lightning have regained 2nd place status in the Atlantic Division. The Isles topped the Florida Panthers, who were tied in points with the Lightning but held a game in-hand. With that in-hand game made up and the points the same, Tampa Bay moved over the Panthers by way of having more wins (40 to 38)…. and that can reverse tonight, with the Cats taking back second, if the Lightning get topped by the Maple Leafs tonight in Toronto.

It could happen. It is possible for a hurting Tampa Bay club to get caught in a trap-game situation. Heck, Toronto’s last game was a win against a need-victories Detroit Red Wings club (1-0 the final). Detroit needs the points with the Flyers only 3 points behind them for the last wild card spot. For Toronto, the 2 points translates to… not much. The Leafs have 57 total points on the season (23-34-11 record), with 3 games in-hand on the next-to-last Edmonton Oilers (who have 61 points). It’s grand jockeying between four Canadian franchises for prime position in the NHL’s cellar with eyes to the future and the NHL Dr—

“John! Stop! What’s wrong with the Lightning? How are they hurting?!”

Oh, that… Yeah… Tonight… Okay, sorry about that.

Cedric Paquette, Valtteri Filppula and Nikita Kucherov have all been attending the school of hard knocks, so to speak, the past few games. Paquette was out of Sunday’s game with a lower body injury while Filppula and Kucherov had their own altercations during Sunday’s affair. Filppula and Kucherov were both knocked out of action – Filp left with an upper body injury while Kucherov left after being sucker-punched by Dalton Prout. As of this writing there have been no recalls from AHL Syracuse, and the need for one has not been clarified to this point. There were two healthy scratches from the Lightning lineup on Sunday (Jonathan Marchessault, Erik Condra) and everyone (sans Paquette) participated in morning skate at the A.C.C. this morning. Coach Jon Cooper told the media directly that Kucherov is playing tonight and Filppula is out. The latter will likely lead to Vladislav Namestnikov taking Filppula’s place at center at center on the third line.

Jonathan Bernier is tabbed to start tonight for the Leafs. His last effort was the 1-0 shutout of the Wings on Sunday. That feat was also pulled off by the Leafs on the road, which adds to the shock value of the win. Then throw in Bernier’s numbers this season for Toronto: A .902 save percentage, a 3.01 GAA. To pitch a shutout against a club vying for a playoff spot is one fell swoop by Bernier as well as the guys in front of him.

As for the Lightning’s crease: Vasy cometh; Andrei Vasilevskiy has an 11-6-0 record, a .915 save percentage and a 2.66 GAA. He had a great effort in the Lightning’s loss to Philadelphia last week where the team in front of him failed to limit shots or take shots of their own. The concern to have with tonight is the same lackluster effort by the 18 skaters – failing to participate on opportunities or stopping opportunities.

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