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Leafs begin long home stretch vs. improved Lightning

by Brian Hunter
LIGHTNING (17-17-3) at MAPLE LEAFS (18-15-5)


Last 10:
Tampa Bay 6-3-1; Toronto 3-5-2

Season Series:
Second of four meetings. The first was one the Lightning would rather forget -- they were routed 7-1 on their home ice on Nov. 22. Tyler Bozak scored twice for the Maple Leafs, who chased Dwayne Roloson from the net early in the third period.

Big Story: While the Lightning begin 2012 once again resembling the team that made a surprise run all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Maple Leafs need to rediscover the winning ways that had them in the top eight for most of the first three months of the season. Coach Ron Wilson was rewarded with a contract extension at Christmastime, but the team is 0-2-1 since and has slipped down to 10th place. On the positive side, Tuesday marks the beginning of a stretch where Toronto plays nine of its next 10 at Air Canada Centre.

Team Scope:

Lightning: Led by the NHL's First Star for last week, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay has put together a three-game winning streak and re-emerged as a team that could make some noise in the East playoff race during the second half. Stamkos was a one-man show at times in Saturday's 5-3 win over Carolina, opening the scoring in the first period, erasing a 2-1 lead by the Hurricanes in the second, and finally completing the hat trick 43 seconds into the third as the Lightning went on to a 5-3 win. Martin St. Louis set up all three goals to reach 500 assists for his career.

"He'll remember that forever," Stamkos said in the Tampa Bay Times of the milestone for St. Louis. "And I'll remember that forever."

Maple Leafs:
He's been a darling of the All-Star fan balloting after a solid rookie season, but the sophomore slump seems to have found James Reimer as his goals-against average sits at 3.01 and his save percentage an even .900 following Saturday's 3-2 loss to Winnipeg. Making the start in his home province, Reimer was undone by a three-goal second that erased the early lead built by a Clarke MacArthur power-play goal. Phil Kessel also scored, but the Maple Leafs ended their four-game road trip on a down note.

"I guess they won the special team battle tonight," Reimer said in the Toronto Star after the Jets capitalized twice with the man advantage. "It's something we work on a lot and we're trying to get better at. We're not getting the bounces. Sometimes it's not because you're not working hard enough. We were working hard today. All the guys were focused. They were ready for the penalty kill and they wanted to kill the penalties. For some reason, the puck wound up in the back of the net."

Who's Hot:
Stamkos is on a tear, with 6 goals in his last three games and a League-leading 26 for the Lightning this season. St. Louis, meanwhile, has 3 goals and 7 assists during a seven-game points streak. Steve Downie has 2 goals and 5 assists during a three-game points streak. … MacArthur (2-4-6) and Kessel (2-3-5) have five-game points streaks active for the Maple Leafs.

Injury Report:
Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman is out indefinitely with a concussion, while forwards Nate Thompson and Ryan Shannon are sidelined with lower-body injuries. … Toronto forward Tyler Bozak (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve Friday, where he joins defensemen John-Michael Liles (concussion-like symptoms) and Mike Komisarek (arm) and forwards Mike Brown (back), Colby Armstrong (concussion/foot) and Philippe Dupuis (upper body). Dupuis was waived Monday and is expected to report to the AHL Marlies if he clears.

Stat Pack: St. Louis scored his 300th career goal earlier this season and now has 308 goals and 808 points in 886 NHL games. … The Maple Leafs had been 9-0-2 in their previous 11 games on New Year's Eve.

Puck Drop: Opponents have been winning the special teams battle consistently against Toronto's penalty-kill this season, which ranks last in the League at 72.3 percent. The players know if there's going to be a run to the postseason in the team's future, the PK must improve.

"The penalty-kill is obviously why we have dug ourselves into this hole right now," defenseman Luke Schenn said in the Toronto Sun. "It's the main thing that is biting us in the butt.

"If we were 10 goals fewer, it would be completely different (in terms of wins and losses.) We need to be better if we are going to have any chance of (making the playoffs)."
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