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Playoff implications on line between Lightning, Leafs

Both teams are jockeying for the second wild card entering tonight's meeting at AMALIE Arena

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Following a 2-1 overtime win in Ottawa on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning leapfrogged the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings to pull into a tie with the New York Islanders for the final Wild Card spot.

If the regular season ended today, the Lightning would still be out of the postseason as New York owns the tiebreaker (wins in regulation/overtime) over the Bolts.

But still, the Lightning are right in the mix for the playoffs with 13 games left in the regular season. One of the teams they're jockeying for position against enters AMALIE Arena tonight as the Bolts host the Leafs in a crucial four-point divisional game.

"We expect a tough battle out there tonight," Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said. "There's no question about that. It's desperation mode for both teams and you want to climb the standings and get into a playoff spot. I guess expect nothing else but the best game from both teams."

Despite the importance, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper cautioned against putting too much emphasis on tonight's game. The Lightning still have double digit games remaining in the regular season, including another matchup against the Maple Leafs in the third-from-last game of the season.

That meeting may have considerably more playoff implications than tonight's.

"I know there's like a lot of onus being put on this game, but there's still lots of hockey left," Cooper said. "A week and a half ago, we were a few points behind the Leafs. We didn't play them and now we're neck and neck with each other. Is this an extremely important game? Yes. Are we looking at this just because it's the Leafs and we're battling with each other? I don't think it matters. We might be singing a different tune when we're in Toronto, that first week of April, second week of April we're there, that's probably going to have a little different meaning. But this is just, we need these two."

The Lightning currently enjoy a one-point lead over the Maple Leafs, but Toronto owns a game in hand. The Maple Leafs are coming off a 7-2 shellacking at the hands of the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

"It is another game, but at this point of the year, playing against a division team, you need your points," Drouin said. "Obviously with the way they played in Florida, they're going to come out hard and skating. It's going to be up to us to match that."

Video: Cooper on Bolts matchup with TOR

INJURY UPDATES: The Lightning were hoping to get some good news heading into Thursday's game with regards to lower-body injuries to Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette.

All three, however, are still on the shelf.

"They're all out," Cooper said in his post morning skate press conference.

Namestnikov returned March 13 at the New York Rangers after missing a game but re-aggravated his injury against the Rangers and sat out the next night in Ottawa.

Johnson and Paquette have been out since going down with injuries March 9 vs. Minnesota.

Cooper didn't say one way or the other whether any of the three would be available for Saturday's game versus Washington.

Video: Drouin on importance of two points

BOYLE RETURNS: Former Lightning center Brian Boyle returned to AMALIE Arena for the first time since the trade that sent him to the Maple Leafs on February 27.

Boyle was asked if it's difficult to go from one team to another midseason, especially with both teams in the same division and battling one another for a playoff spot.

"It's just funny how it kind of unfolded really," he answered. "I just try to do what I can, control what I can. You learn the hard way sometimes that there's things you can't control, things are going to happen that maybe you didn't foresee coming or maybe you didn't expect to get excited about or want to do. Things happen for a reason. I'm here now. I'm enjoying it. The guys have been really good to me. It's going to be interesting playing against guys I was teammates with two-and-a-half weeks ago."

Boyle expects there to be a lot of emotion involved playing against his former team, but he's not sure if now is the time to dwell on such things.
"The emotional side of it, I've got to save that for another day," he said. "It's going to be hard. I have some great memories here."

Cooper said Boyle was the ultimate team-first guy who was a pleasure to have around.

"I can't say enough about Brian Boyle," Cooper said. "I could go on for a long time about him. I got to know his family well, the dad's trips… He's just a phenomenal human being. If I needed a young kid to be mentored, I went to Boyle for that."

Hedman said Boyle was one of the best teammates he's ever had.

"He's a great leader in the locker room and a big character guy on the ice," the defenseman said. "He can play in all situations, take big face-offs. He can play on the power play, the penalty kill. He stands up for his teammates. Just an unreal guy. It will be different to play against him, but he plays for them now and we've just got to focus on that for 60 minutes."

Video: Hedman on Bolts staying hot

ICE CHIPS: Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to start in goal for the Bolts tonight. Vasilevskiy is 6-0-1 in his last seven starts and has made 30 or more saves in six of his last seven…Cooper praised Brayden Point, who's been playing center on the top line because of injuries. "On the talent side of things, he's probably where we thought he might end up, just he's done it way faster than we could have imagined," Cooper said. "…There's a lot been put on his plate, and he's passed them with flying colors. It's pretty impressive."…Defenseman Jake Dotchin was dinged up late in the Ottawa game but was on the ice for Bolts morning skate, partnering as usual along Victor Hedman , signaling he should be ready to go tonight versus Toronto…The Lightning will sell out for the 100th-consecutive game (including playoffs) at AMALIE Arena tonight provided capacity is reached as expected.

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