TAMPA -- Talk about timing.
One day after Steven Stamkos notched his 50th goal, the Toronto Maple Leafs arrive to play the Lightning Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Naturally, Ontario native Stamkos' achievement is the center of attention.
"Special players, you have to pay special attention to," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "You have to recognize when he's on the ice. He has some tendencies on where he likes to go on the ice, but he can make something out of nothing.
"He's very, very confident in what he does out there on the ice. I think he's become an elite athlete. From where he was as an 18-year old draftee to where he is now, how much time and work and effort he's put in personally and the skill-set that he possesses, is all part of him accepting responsibility and developing himself into an elite-level NHL hockey player. You have to give him all the credit in the world because of the approach he has taken and maintains."
For Stamkos, it's more than just scoring goals now, it's about leadership.
"This year we have gone through a lot of adversity, so it was kind of a goal of mine to become more of a leader, whether on the ice or through actions," Stamkos said. "It's a time where I've been here four years now and I've earned trust and respect. It's a great feeling knowing you're part of the leadership group on this team, and I just want to keep learning and helping this team win."
Lightning coach Guy Boucher also praised the 22-year old for his developing leadership skills.
"I've always seen his potential," Boucher said. "He's an extremely respectful individual when it comes to everything, but mainly leadership. His leadership really revolves around how he inspires people around him; his charging, driving attitude, his enthusiasm for the game and wanting to be the guy in the big moments, that's very contagious.
"The mark of every great athlete is to adapt, and that's what he has. His attitude, his work ethic and his discipline have made his actions successful almost every night, and that's impressive for a youngster his age."
Toronto arrives in Tampa carrying plenty of recent adversity. It has been a tough stretch for the Maple Leafs, who are making the third stop on what will ultimately be a five-game road swing, during which they are still seeking their first point. They are 0-4-1 in their last five, 1-4-1 since Carlyle took over the reins on March 2, and are on the verge of becoming the only franchise in hockey to miss the playoffs every year since the lockout if they miss out and the Panthers get in.
"Our job as a coaching staff right now is to get this hockey club in the right frame of mind and win some games to get ourselves feeling better about ourselves," Carlyle said. "It's as simple as that. Right now we're not an emotionally 'up' group. Hopefully, they can bring an effort tonight that is worthy of getting us a couple of points."
Carlyle made the point that reports he ripped his club post-game after Tuesday night's loss to the Panthers are inaccurate.
"I didn't rip the team at all," Carlyle said. "I talked about self-destruction and how we could improve; there was no rant, it was just like I'm talking now, it was matter-of-fact. This is what I felt, this is what had transpired out there, and we are held accountable and responsible for those actions."
The Maple Leafs got some additional bad news as Nikolai Kulemin is out with a broken finger, sustained during the 5-2 loss to Florida.
"It seems like the longer we go on this road trip, there always seems to be subtraction taking place," Carlyle said.
Here are the projected lineups for tonight's game:
Clarke MacArthur - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Tim Connolly - David Steckel - Mikhail Grabovski
Carter Ashton - Matt Frattin - Joey Crabb
Colby Armstrong - Matthew Lombardi - Jay Rosehill
Dion Phaneuf - Carl Gunnarsson
Luke Schenn - Jake Gardiner
Mike Komisarek - John-Michael Liles
Martin St. Louis - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Ryan Malone - Adam Hall - Nate Thompson
JT Wyman - Tom Pyatt - Tim Wallace
Brett Connolly - Ryan Shannon
Eric Brewer - Victor Hedman
Brett Clark - Mike Commodore
Brendan Mikkelson - Brian Lee