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Maple Leafs fight to stay alive minus Lupul

by Brian Hunter

MAPLE LEAFS (38-33-8) at LIGHTNING (42-27-9)


Last 10: Toronto 2-8-0; Tampa Bay 5-3-2

Season series: This is the fourth and final game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning. Toronto won the first two but Tampa Bay claimed a 5-3 win on March 19, part of an eight-game losing streak that caused the Maple Leafs to lose their hold on a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Big story: There's still a flicker of hope for the Maple Leafs, but with three games left in the regular season they can only get as high as 90 points. The Columbus Blue Jackets, who currently occupy the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, already have 87 points and four games left. Toronto needs to win games and get help.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: The final three games for Toronto are all on the road, though it hasn't seemed to matter where the Maple Leafs are playing during their recent struggles. They momentarily took their season off life support with a two-game winning streak, but then dropped a 4-2 decision on Saturday to a Winnipeg Jets team that's already been eliminated from postseason contention.

Not helping matters any, forward Joffrey Lupul will reportedly be out three weeks because of a knee injury that will require surgery. Lupul missed a game April 2 against the Detroit Red Wings and returned against the Jets only to leave after two periods.

"The motto for us is the next one's the most important one," coach Randy Carlyle said after practice Monday. "That's the way it's been all year and that's not going to change. We're going to prepare our group to play the game that's necessary for us to have success. That's our mindset."

Lightning: There's a chance Tampa Bay might also need to run the table in order to catch the Montreal Canadiens for second place in the Atlantic Division and gain home ice for the opening round of the playoffs. The Lightning have a game in hand but trail the Canadiens by four points and have four fewer non-shootout wins.

It wouldn't be surprising if they came out a bit ornery Tuesday after spotting the Dallas Stars three first-period goals in a 5-2 loss on Saturday. The slow start came on the heels of a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames in which the Lightning gave up two goals in the opening 20 minutes.

"Hopefully this is out of our system and we can come down off our high chair after making the playoffs and realize there are other teams that are coming and can catch us," captain Steven Stamkos said in the Tampa Bay Times.

Who's hot: Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri has goals in consecutive games. … Lightning forward Ondrej Palat has one goal and three assists during a three-game point streak.

Injury report: In addition to Lupul, goalie Jonathan Bernier (knee) will miss the rest of the regular season for Toronto. … Tampa Bay defenseman Michael Kostka (concussion) is out indefinitely.

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