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Pregame Notebook: Valtteri Filppula to return to lineup as Bolts battle Maple Leafs

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning center Valtteri Filppula has missed the last six games with an upper-body injury but will return to the lineup tonight to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs according to Bolts head coach Jon Cooper.

Filppula skated in a regular jersey during morning skate and took rushes on the first line, centering Alex Killorn (left wing) and Steven Stamkos (right wing).

Ryan Callahan (lower-body injury) also took part in morning skate but continued to wear a grey jersey and did not participate in line rushes. He’s likely out for tonight’s game.

So too is Nikita Kucherov (lower-body injury), who didn’t appear at morning skate, and Anton Stralman (fractured left fibula), who won’t be back until the postseason.

“We’re getting Filppula back tonight, so that helps,” Cooper said about the Bolts’ recent spate of injuries. “It’s just one of those situations where the stun of losing not only (Stralman) but you lose Kucherov, (Filppula), Callahan, there’s a little bit of a stun period there…We’ve gone through this before where you just have to sit here and say, ‘Here’s our game plan. We have to just go out and execute it regardless of who’s in the lineup.’ We’ll get a little boost with having (Filppula) back…We’re way too deep into the season to sit here and say poor us. We’ve got to make a push here. We’re not in (the playoffs). That’s all we’re really focused on regardless of who’s in.”

STAMMER SWITCH

With Filppula returning and inserted on the top line, Steven Stamkos shifted over to the right wing from the center position he had been manning of late. The switch comes at a curious time for Stamkos, who has scored seven goals in his last seven games and 12 over his previous 19. But the Lightning captain is used to moving from center to wing. He’s done it quite a bit over the last couple seasons, and he’s a versatile player able to thrive at multiple positions.

“It’s not something that I’m going to lose any sleep over,” Stamkos said. “I think I’ve been able to do that. I think as a natural center going to the wing is easier than a winger going over to center. I played that position multiple times before in the past. It’s really not an issue for me heading into games now.”

Stamkos tallied his 36th goal of the season on Saturday and needs just four more over the final seven games of the season to reach the 40-goal milestone for the second-straight season and fifth time overall. Stamkos currently ranks fourth in the league for goals.

“Numbers are numbers,” he said. “It’s something at the end of the year you can look back and say, ‘You know what, yeah I scored 50 or 40. It’s great.’ But at the end of the day, I think I’ve learned through my career it’s great to look back on but you want to win. That’s the thing. You want to get into the playoffs and you want to put up numbers to help your team win in the playoffs…I’ve definitely been proud of the way I’ve played the last couple months in comparison to the beginning of the season for sure.”

Stamkos’ goal on Saturday came on the power play, his 14th power-play marker of the season, tying him with Martin St. Louis (2006-07) for sixth most power-play goals in a season in franchise history. Stamkos owns the record for power-play goals in a season when he scored 24 during the 2009-10 campaign.

TOUGH TIMES AGAINST TORONTO

Despite ranking last in the NHL for points, the Toronto Maple Leafs have given the Lightning all they can handle in the teams’ previous four meetings this season.

Tampa Bay owns a 3-1-0 record in 2015-16 versus Toronto, yet all three wins were decided by a single goal. The lone loss was another one-goal game until the Maple Leafs scored two empty-net goals to pull away for a 4-1 win in the teams’ latest meeting on March 15.

The Bolts know that, despite their record, the Maple Leafs will be a tough out tonight.

“Toronto’s obviously in a different situation now because they have all these young guys that are playing for them, but they’re excited and they’ve got energy and they’re trying to win hockey games, they’re trying to win jobs for the future and we’ve had experience in that three years ago when we were going through this and the next year we brought up all those young guys, it’s very similar to what we’re watching here,” Cooper said. “They’re competing for a little bit different reasons than what we’re competing for, but it’s still competition and (Toronto head coach) Mike (Babcock) does a good job with them and he’s got them playing the right way.”

With seven games left in the regular season and their magic number at nine, the Lightning can’t worry about the team on the other end of the ice. They have to focus on their own game to get closer to securing a playoff berth for the third-consecutive season.

“I think we can kind of see the light at the end of the tunnel here, seven games left and there’s no check mark by our name yet,” Bolts goalie Ben Bishop said. “We’re trying to get these wins as fast as possible to get that playoff spot locked up and Toronto’s a good team. They’ve been playing really well. It’s not going to be an easy test tonight.”

ODDS AND ENDS

Ben Bishop was the first goaltender off the ice at today’s morning skate and looks to be the starter in net tonight for the Bolts. Bishop has yet to play against Toronto this season despite this being the fifth and final meeting between the two teams…The Lightning have won four straight at home over the Maple Leafs…Bishop’s goals-against average is currently 2.05, second best in the NHL. If the season were to end today, Bishop’s GAA would rank as the best for a single season in Lightning history, overtaking John Grahame’s 2.06 GAA during the 2003-04 season…The Lightning lost for the first time this season on Saturday when Tyler Johnson registers a goal. The Bolts are now 12-1-0 when Johnson scores…Tampa Bay’s +29 goal differential is tied for fourth best in the NHL…The Bolts rank fifth in the league for goals allowed per game (2.39) despite giving up four or more goals in four of their last six games.

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