LIGHTNING (39-30-10) at MAPLE LEAFS (39-25-15)
7:30 pm (TSN4)
When at first you don’t succeed, try try again. For the second consecutive game, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a simple objective. Win, and they’re in.
There’s not much sense in dwelling on Tuesday’s loss to the Washington Capitals where the stakes were the same. On the second of back to back games, the Leafs faced an opponent with more depth and were simply unable to get much going offensively due to the smothering system of the Capitals. For a top team, I don’t watch them very often but it’s clear to see why they’re now owners of the 2017 Presidents’ Trophy. Some top end talent, a mobile defense and not many gaps from top to bottom. This team should be giving fans pause while filling in this years playoff brackets.
Tonight’s matchup against the Lightning should not be taken lightly either. Although Tampa Bay has suffered from injuries to key players this year, players like Nikita Kucherov (38G, 81 points) and Victor Hedman (15G, 52 points) have had outstanding seasons.
I have to admit that even with three games remaining to gain the two points needed, there’s a real urgency for the Leafs to clinch tonight with the remaining games against Pittsburgh and Columbus. A glance at the teams on the outside looking in (Lightning and Islanders) tells me that either could do the unlikely and apply tremendous pressure on the Toronto Maple Leafs to take control of their fate. If the Lightning or Islanders win their three remaining games, the Maple Leafs will get bounced if they do not summon a win during that span. Some are pointing out how unlikely it is for the Leafs to go 0-3 while simultaneously seeing a 3-0 finish from their pursuers however the screws will tighten with each passing day the Leafs fail to win.
On one hand, a loss for the Islanders and Lightning will clinch a playoff spot for the Leafs. On the other hand, any win will grant the buds a spot on the dance floor. There is a second nightmare scenario playing into the Islanders favour. Should the Isles go 3-0 to finish the season, a 0-2-1 result by the Leafs will also grant the Islanders the tie breaker (ROW) with 39 to the Leafs 38.
All in all, the Leafs are in a very favourable position but make no mistake, a Tampa Bay win in regulation tonight would really simplify the Lightning’s path to a playoff spot. We should see two very motivated teams tonight considering what is at stake for both teams.
“We didn’t have any margin for error, and now our margin of error is razor thin,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But we’re not done yet, and it puts a lot of pressure on that Toronto game.”
“We’re not out of it yet,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said after their game Tuesday against the Bruins. “It’s obviously a tough hill to climb, and we need a lot of things to go our way.”
“We’re at the point where we can’t give up any points,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said.
Needless to say, the Leafs have an opportunity to do something tonight that very few thought possible at the beginning of this season. As anyone can tell you, finishing off a team can be one of the hardest things to do. Brian Boyle was having none of it though “It’s time to punch our ticket” and I for one agree.
Frederik Andersen (33-15-18, .919 sv%) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (20-17-9, .915 sv%) are expected to get the start. Brian Boyle was on the ice for the Leafs morning skate and is also probable to face his former team after being taken out of the game against Washington with an “upper body” injury. Steven Stamkos remains on the sidelines for what could be the rest of the season.
Projected Line Combinations
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Hyman — Matthews — Nylander
Komarov — Kadri — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Martin — Boyle — Kapanen
Rielly — Carrick
Gardiner — Zaitsev
Hunwick — Polak
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Palat — Point — Kucherov
Killorn — Gourde — Conacher
Drouin — McKegg — Vermin
Erne — Namestnikov — Bournival
Hedman — Dotchin
Coburn — Sustr
Stralman — Witkowski