March 23, 2004
GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (42-21-8-5) at Toronto Maple Leafs (41-23-9-3).
TIME: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't need this type of distraction.
Still fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs will have to overcome the suspension of enforcer Wade Belak when they take on the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning.
The league announced Monday that Belak would be suspended eight games for his two-handed slash to the face of Colorado defenseman Ossi Vaananen during Toronto's 5-2 win on Saturday.
"It was a little severe I think," Belak said. "I wasn't expecting to walk away with less than three (games), but I thought no more than five. Getting six plus two, it's kind of harsh."
Belak is a repeat offender, having received a two-game suspension in November 2002 when he elbowed Washington defenseman Brendan Witt in the head.
This suspension will cost Belak $67,682.94 in forfeited salary. More importantly, he will not be with the team for the remaining regular season games and the first two in the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs enter this game one point behind Northeast Division-leading Boston and three behind Tampa Bay, which has dropped two straight.
The Lightning failed to increase their lead atop the conference on Sunday, losing 3-0 to the New York Islanders. The loss came a day after the Lightning squandered a three-goal lead in a 5-4 setback at Boston.
"We were going so good," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "We knew we weren't going to win all the games the rest of the year, but we didn't think we'd lose two or three games in a row and have a slump like we have right now."
The Lightning have dropped four of five overall, including two losses to the eighth-place Islanders in six days. Prior to its skid, Tampa Bay had earned at least one point in 18 straight games.
However, the Lightning have already won the Southeast Division and are guaranteed no lower than a third seed and home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
After the visit to Toronto, Tampa Bay plays its final five games at home.
STANDINGS: Lightning - 97 points, 1st place, Southeast Division. Maple Leafs - 94 points, 2nd place, 1 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - St. Louis, 35 goals, 51 assists and 86 points; Chris Dingman, 138 PIM. Maple Leafs - Mats Sundin, 30 goals, 41 assists and 71 points; Tie Domi, 203 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 21): Lightning - Power play: 16.4 percent (52 for 317), 14th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (40 for 260), 8th. Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.2 percent (70 for 347), 5th. Penalty killing: 83.2 percent (61 for 363), 21st.
GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Nikolai Khabibulin (26-17-7, 3 SO, 2.34 GAA); John Grahame (16-9-1, 1, 2.03). Maple Leafs - Ed Belfour (30-18-5, 7, 2.16); Trevor Kidd (6-5-2, 1, 3.26).
SEASON SERIES: Even, 1-1-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 26; Lightning, 4-3. At Tampa Bay, Brad Richards had two goals and an assist as the Lightning improved to 13-1-1-4 in their last 19 games.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 21-12-4-3 on the road; Maple Leafs - 21-13-2-2 at home.-- Associated Press