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Lightning back home to challenge Maple Leafs

by Adam Kimelman
MAPLE LEAFS (5-5-3) at LIGHTNING (7-4-2)


Last 10 --
Toronto 2-5-3; Tampa Bay 4-4-2

Season series -- This will be the first of four meetings between the teams this season. They split last season's four games, with all four being one-goal affairs, including three overtime thrillers.

Big Story -- Home never has looked so good to the Lightning, who will try to put a disastrous West Coast trip behind them. The Leafs are trying to put an end to their own skid, having lost five straight games by a total of seven goals.

Team Scope:
Maple Leafs -- On Sunday, the Leafs still were lamenting how they let Saturday's game against the Sabres get away. Leading 2-0 late in the second, they couldn't close the game out, giving up one goal with 1:14 left in the second, and the game-tying goal with 13.1 seconds left in regulation. They went on to lose in a shootout, 3-2.

GM Brian Burke said the blame for the loss, as well as the current five-game losing streak, rests with the players. "We have players who aren't performing at a proper level on a nightly basis. That has to change," he told reporters.

Burke also went out of his way to shift any blame from coach Ron Wilson.

"I'm told (Wilson) got blasted in the media today," Burke said. "Let me ask you a question -- did Ron play poorly (Saturday)? No. Why don't you guys focus on the players who played poorly (Saturday) instead of questioning the coach."

Lightning -- After a road trip that saw them lose three of four out west (0-3-1), capped by Saturday's 5-2 loss in San Jose, coach Guy Boucher didn't skate his players into the ice -- he gave them Sunday off.

It's a plan Boucher has had at every level he's coached -- if the players give the effort he wants in practice and games, the reward is extra time off to rest and relax.

His method has worked so far, as the Lightning, who have missed the playoffs three straight seasons, enter Tuesday fourth in the Eastern Conference.

"What I've found is that if you don't give enough days off, you're trying to work hard on something and you go nowhere," Boucher told the Tampa Tribune. "You're there, but you don't progress. Guys are going through the motions. I ask the players for work ethic and enthusiasm. If we're going to have more than the other teams, you've got to recharge the battery.''

Who's Hot --
Maple Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski had a goal and an assist in Saturday's loss to Buffalo and has points in three straight games (1 goal, 3 assists). … Lightning forward Ryan Malone has just 1 goal in 13 games this season, but seeing a Leafs jersey could invigorate him -- he had 3 goals in four games against Toronto last season, including an overtime winner.

Injury Report -- The Leafs continue to be without forward Colby Armstrong (finger) and defenseman Dion Phaneuf (leg), both of whom are on injured reserve. … Lightning forward Simon Gagne has missed the last seven games with a neck injury. Two players who missed the road trip should return Tuesday. Forward Dominic Moore has missed the last five games with a groin injury, while defenseman Matt Smaby has sat out the last four with an ankle injury. Tampa sent forward Blair Jones and defenseman Matt Roy to the AHL Sunday, clearing the way for their returns.

Stat Pack -- While Steven Stamkos' goal-scoring prowess jumps off the page -- he has a League-high 11 in 13 games -- he's helping in other ways. Stamkos leads the team's forwards with a plus-7, after entering the season a career minus-15. He was a plus or even player in every game until Saturday, when he was a minus-2 against San Jose.

Puck Drop --
The Lightning struggled offensively during their road trip, scoring just seven goals in four games, and getting shut out once. And their power play, which still ranks eighth in the League, went just 2-for-12 on the trip.

Boucher, however, isn't worried.

"I always say goals are like bananas, they come in bunches,'' he told the Tampa Tribune following Saturday's game. "I think we need the same opportunities that we've been getting, we just need to bury them."

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