Tightening race; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Toronto Maple Leafs preview

Follow @RawCharge With 25 games left in the season and three head-to-head match-ups between the Bolts and the Maple Leafs, the weight of the games becomes even heavier.

Where:  Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Television: Sun Sports | Radio: 970 AM WFLA
Opponent Coverage: Pension Plan Puppets, The Leafs Nation

Let's take a quick look at the Flortheast Division standings:

Atlantic Standings

Boston 55 36 16 3 75
Tampa Bay 56 32 19 5 69
Montreal 57 30 21 6 66
Toronto 58 30 22 6 66
Detroit 56 25 19 12 62
Ottawa 57 25 21 11 61
Florida 56 22 27 7 51
Buffalo 56 15 33 8 38

(updated 2.6.2014 at 9:56 AM EST)

While the Bolts remain in second place in the division, they didn't help themselves one iota by allowing Toronto to get two points at A.C.C. last week when they teams made their season series premiere.  There are another three matchups between the clubs - the second of the season being tonight at Times Palace - and that means another six points that may very well determine playoff seeding come April.

Or, if the Hockey Gods deem it, points that will ultimately make or break a playoff spot in general.  You never know in this league if a team will survive the last leg of the season.  We're coming up on the Olympic break and there are only 25 games left in the regular season for the Lightning - less than a third of a season.  As I said last week, these head-to-head points are crucial and cannot be conceded.

It's not like the Lightning just rolled over and put together a fart of an effort in Toronto last week. Jonathan Bernier was stellar for the Leafs and the refs were just as wonderful. While home-ice advantage goes to the Lightning for this one, home hasn't been all that great for Tampa Bay in its (limited) games there of recent: They're 2-3-2 since December 21st, their wins coming on the homestand that preceded this just-concluded road spin.

The Lightning losing on Tuesday to close out the road trip sucked, but the Leafs did the Bolts a favor and lost to the Panthers in Sunrise, so no ground was gained by Toronto.  The atmosphere tonight should be akin to a playoff game - with many a visiting Toronto fan in attendance to cheer on their club... This should give the Sticks of Fire Supporters Group a bit of a trial - can their cheers and jeers compete with the versed chorus from Toronto fans?

Much of any pregame notes from today have sort of been drowned out by the news that Martin St. Louis will replace Steven Stamkos on Team Canada's Olympic roster. Though Toronto's starter in net hasn't been confirmed, in all likelihood it'll be a rematch of Bishop versus Bernier tonight as Ben has already been confirmed as the starter for Tampa Bay.

Toronto remains the worst in the league in shots-allowed per game (36.3) and near the top of the league in power play percentage (22.7% success rate), so once again the Lightning need to stay the hell out of the penalty box.  If you see more passing than shooting tonight from the Lightning, it's an attempt to deceive Bernier, because just shooting at him isn't going to beat him... Though the Toronto defense does everything in their power to enable opponent's attempts on Bernier.

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