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Lightning look to add distance from Maple Leafs

by Brian Hunter

MAPLE LEAFS (30-22-6) at LIGHTNING (32-19-5)


Last 10: Toronto 7-2-1; Tampa Bay 5-4-1

Season series: This is the second of four games between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning. Nazem Kadri scored twice and James van Riemsdyk had the decisive goal with 4:03 remaining in Toronto's 3-2 victory at Air Canada Centre on Jan. 28.

Big story: The 40th game the Tampa Bay Lightning will play without Steven Stamkos was hopefully going to be the final one. Stamkos had planned to return Saturday for the pre-Olympic break finale against the Detroit Red Wings, but it was announced Wednesday his broken leg isn't fully healed yet and he won't participate for Canada in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Lightning will try to win Thursday for the 21st time without Stamkos' services, while the Maple Leafs could close to within a point of the Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division with a regulation victory.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: Before returning to the lineup Tuesday from an eight-game injury absence, forward David Clarkson talked about wanting to hit the reset button on what's been a disappointing first season in Toronto. He turned out to be one of the few bright spots in a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, scoring his fourth goal in 37 games midway through the third period.

Jonathan Bernier was under siege all night, facing 47 shots. It was the 11th time this season he faced at least 40 shots in a game. As a team, the Maple Leafs are last in the NHL allowing an average of 36.3 shots per game, a full two shots more than the 29th-ranked Ottawa Senators.

"Bernier played unbelievable for us again," Clarkson said in the Toronto Sun. "We have to find a way to be better as a team. We owe it to both of these goalies to have a better outcome."

Lightning: Even though Stamkos won't play in the Olympics, with the break there's the hope he will only miss these next two games for Tampa Bay and be ready to go Feb. 27 against the Nashville Predators. For now, the Lightning are focused on finishing strong against the Maple Leafs and Red Wings following a disappointing 1-3-0 road trip.

"Two teams that are nipping at our heels," coach Jon Cooper said of Toronto and Detroit in the Tampa Bay Times. "We'll have this team ready to play for those games. It will be good to get home. It's just really disappointing we pulled just two points out of this road trip."

The Lightning are hovering just outside the top 10 in the League in offense (2.80 goals per game) even without Stamkos, but they've averaged just two goals over their past four games. Valtteri Filppula, who returned from a one-game absence due to a lower-body injury, scored in the third for their only goal against the Wild.

Who's hot: Kadri assisted on Clarkson's goal and has a six-game point streak (three goals, seven assists) for the Maple Leafs. … Despite coming out on the losing end, Lightning goalie Ben Bishop had his 31st start of the season Tuesday allowing two goals or fewer.

Injury report: Toronto forwards Dave Bolland (ankle), Trevor Smith (hand) and Carter Ashton (hand) are on injured reserve. … In addition to Stamkos (leg), but goaltender Anders Lindback (ankle) is out until after the Olympic break.

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