Toronto Maple Leafs (28-20-4-1) at Tampa Bay Lightning (22-20-7-4).TIME:
Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.
There is an air of enthusiasm around the Tampa Bay Lightning these days -- as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs aren't in the building.
The Lightning look to continue their push for their first playoff berth since 1996 and end a dreadful hex against the Maple Leafs when the teams meet at The St. Pete Times Forum.
Tampa Bay, which finished 27-40-11-4 last season, enters this game in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Lightning are tied with the seventh-place New York Islanders with 55 points, but have two fewer wins.
|Darcy Tucker and the Leafs look to make it four-straight on the road tonight.|
However, the Lightning look like anything but a playoff team when they face the Maple Leafs, recording just eight wins in 36 games (8-27-1) since entering the league prior to the 1992-93 season.
Tampa Bay's problems at home against Toronto are even more depressing as it has just two wins in that span (2-15).
"They got our number for sure," Martin St. Louis said following a 2-1 loss to Toronto on Dec. 20.
The Maple Leafs have won all three meetings this season, and seven straight overall.
"Our team seems to come together when we come to Florida," Toronto right wing Darcy Tucker said. "I don't know what it is with our hockey club, but we play really well down here. We always seem to find a way to win in this rink."
Well within striking distance of first-place Washington in the Southeast Division, the Lightning wasted a chance to gain some ground on Tuesday, dropping a 5-1 decision to the Capitals.
"Everything around the game, except the game itself," Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said about the postseason feel surrounding the contest. "You get up in the morning, read the paper and you realize what position where in.
They wanted it more than us." Goalie John Grahame made his third straight start for Tampa Bay, but was pulled after allowing four goals on 11 shots.
The Maple Leafs have won the first three games of their four-game road trip, including a 6-0 victory at Florida on Wednesday.
Six different players scored and Ed Belfour continued his outstanding season with 33 saves for his league high-tying sixth shutout.STANDINGS:
Maple Leafs - 61 points, 2nd place, 12 PB, Northeast Division.
Lightning - 55 points, 2nd place, 5 PB, Southeast Division.TEAM LEADERS:
Maple Leafs - Mats Sundin, 24 goals; Alexander Mogilny, 32 assists and 54 points; Tie Domi, 108 PIM.
Lightning - St. Louis, 27 goals and 53 points; Vaclav Prospal, 38 assists; Chris Dingman, 79 PIM.SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 4):
Maple Leafs - Power play: 18.1 percent (43 for 238), 11th in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.5 percent (231 for 264), 2nd.
Lightning - Power play: 16.3 percent (45 for 276), 15th. Penalty killing: 82.7 percent (187 for 226), 19th.GOALTENDERS:
Maple Leafs - Belfour (24-14-3, 6 SO, 2.09 GAA); Trevor Kidd (3-6-1, 3.43).
Lightning - Nikolai Khabibulin (18-19-6, 2, 2.77); Grahame (15-11-2, 2, 2.56).SEASON SERIES:
Maple Leafs, 3-0.LAST MEETING:
Dec. 20, 2002; Maple Leafs, 2-1. At Tampa Fla., Belfour made 29 saves and Robert Reichel and Mogilny scored for Toronto. Brad Richards spoiled Belfour's shutout, scoring with 1:36 to go.ROAD/HOME RECORDS:
Maple Leafs - 12-11-2-1 on the road; Lightning - 14-7-3-2 at home.