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Lightning hot at home as Maple Leafs pay visit

by Corey Long

MAPLE LEAFS (26-33-5) at LIGHTNING (39-20-6)

TV: TVA, SNO, SUN

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to continue their strong play on home ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Amalie Arena on Thursday.

The Lightning (39-20-6) are 9-2-0 at home since the start of January and are riding consecutive shutouts against the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres. Tampa Bay is currently in the middle of a seven-team logjam in the Eastern Conference and trails the Montreal Canadiens by three points for the top seed. The Lightning are one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, having played three more games.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said it's hard to find a bulls-eye team in the Eastern Conference this season.

"A lot of the teams are similar, I look at teams like the Rangers, the Canadiens, the Islanders and they come to mind and then you see Pittsburgh and Washington and it's like, 'Wow they are all good,'" Cooper said. "All the teams have good defensemen, they are getting good goaltending. I couldn't pick someone in the East right now."

If the Lightning can hold off the Red Wings there's a good chance they will open the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at home, but Cooper said that doesn't guarantee wins. Last season the Lightning lost their two home games against Montreal as part of a four-game sweep.

"I truly believe that home ice goes out the window in the playoffs," Cooper said. "I don't know too many teams that run the table at home in the playoffs. But everything in the playoffs is so heightened. Every shift. Every TV timeout. The crowd can come to play at the end of games, but even then the pressure of each game negates it a little. Obviously our play at home is a big reason that we are where we are, but we can't hang our hat on that in the playoffs."

Toronto is finishing up a four-game road trip. The Maple Leafs (26-33-5) beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday for their first road win since December 31.

They are not talking playoffs in Toronto, but the team was active prior to the NHL Trade Deadline on Monday and some veterans will have a chance to play as the regular season closes.

Defenseman Eric Brewer, who was acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks, will be in the lineup Thursday. Brewer started his season with the Lightning before being traded to the Ducks and has a goal and five assists in 26 games.

The 35-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and is looking at his time with Toronto as a chance to prove he can still play in the NHL.

"I definitely want to play next year," Brewer said. "I wasn't expecting another trade, but I just want to get on the ice and play some hockey. Everything else will work out."

Here are the projected lineups:

MAPLE LEAFS

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - Richard Panik

Leo Komarov - Peter Holland - David Booth

Zach Sill - Joakim Lindstrom - Brandon Kozun

Dion Phaneuf - Roman Polak

Eric Brewer - Morgan Rielly

Jake Gardiner - Stephane Robidas

Jonathan Bernier

James Reimer

Scratched:?????????Tim Erixon

Injured:?????????Trevor Smith (lower body)

LIGHTNING

Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Cedric Paquette - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin

Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Vladislav Namestnikov

Anton Stralman - Victor Hedman

Braydon Coburn - Jason Garrison

Andrej Sustr - Nikita Nesterov

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scratched: Mark Barberio

Injured: Matthew Carle (abdominal surgery), J.T. Brown (upper body)

Status update: It appears Bishop will start Thursday after Vasilevskiy shut out the Sabres. … Namestnikov was called up from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League to replace Brown in the lineup.

Who's hot: Stamkos has scored four goals in the past three games. … Holland had the game-winning goal for the Maple Leafs in a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.

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