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Maple Leafs focused on strong start vs. Lightning

by Mike Brophy

LIGHTNING (13-5-2) at MAPLE LEAFS (9-8-2)


TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping to kick things off on the right foot against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

Scoring the first goal of the game would be a nice way to start, if only to appease the home fans who have been restless of late.

"It would be nice," Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. "A lot of times when you generate that first goal your chances of winning go up. That said, there have been a lot of cases when we have come from behind, so if we don't get the first goal it's not the end of the world."

It won't be an easy task. The Lightning are the highest scoring team in the NHL with 72 goals, 10 more than the next team, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Maple Leafs ran an optional morning skate Thursday with goalie Jonathan Bernier, defensemen Dion Phaneuf and Roman Polak and forwards Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and David Clarkson taking the morning off. Carlyle said the skate was made optional at the request of the players, and when asked if he expects those who didn't participate to pay back his kindness during the game, the coach said, "No, they can pay themselves back."

Carlyle isn't pressing the panic button despite the fact his team has lost three straight games and was outscored 15-4 in the previous two.

"I think what we have to focus on is the process and block everything else out," Carlyle said. "We have to block out anything else that is going on and focus on our task at hand. Our task at hand is to execute and play a game where this hockey club shows it has speed, can transition the puck and can forecheck; do all the little things within the big picture."

In an attempt to lighten things up during a tumultuous time, Carlyle said the team had a video session Wednesday, but the coaching staff didn't go overboard pointing out every little mistake made in the loss Tuesday to Nashville.

"Obviously there was lots we could have chosen to go through," Carlyle said. "We chose some things we think will demonstrate to our players that they have to immediately correct. If it is coasting on a forecheck or coasting on a backcheck or not running the proper route where people are not where they are expected to be. All those little things are easily correctable."

The Lightning will also try to make amends for a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

"You expect the Maple Leafs to come out hard tonight because they weren't pleased with their effort (against Nashville) and we know we'll get a good start from them," said Tampa Bay's leading scorer Steven Stamkos. "We didn't have a good loss last game either. We're coming off a tough one, so we'll want to rebound ourselves."

Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop said he and his teammates are worried about what they have to do and not so concerned about how the Maple Leafs will address their loss to the Predators.

"We know they are a good team and they're going to come out with a little more incentive, but we're not too worried about how they'll come out," Bishop said. "We have to worry about how we're going to play."

Here are the projected lineups:


Valtteri Filppula - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Jonathan Drouin - Vladislav Namestnikov - Alex Killorn

Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly

Matthew Carle - Anton Stralman

Andrej Sustr - Mark Barberio

Jason Garrison - Radko Gudas

Evgeni Nabokov

Ben Bishop

Scratched: Eric Brewer, J.T. Brown

Injured: Victor Hedman (fractured finger), Cedric Paquette (lower body)


James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Daniel Winnik - Nazem Kadri - David Clarkson

Leo Komarov - Peter Holland - Mike Santorelli

Richard Panik - Trevor Smith - Josh Leivo

Dion Phaneuf - Cody Franson

Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak

Morgan Rielly - Stephane Robidas

Jonathan Bernier

James Reimer

Scratched: None

Injured: Joffrey Lupul (hand), David Booth (foot), Brandon Kozun (ankle)

Status report: The Maple Leafs may have to make some roster moves soon to accommodate injured players returning to action. Lupul, Booth and Kozun all participated in the optional morning skate Thursday and appear to be close to returning. … Right wing Matt Frattin has cleared waivers and was assigned to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League on Thursday. … Morrow could draw back into the Lightning lineup. Paquette left the game Tuesday with a lower-body injury and is day-to-day.

Who's hot: Stamkos is on a three-game points streak against the Maple Leafs dating back to the 2012-13 season with four goals and six points. Stamkos had a hat trick in his most recent game in Toronto, March 19, 2014. … Killorn has goals in back-to-back games. … Franson is on an eight-game points streak with two goals and 10 points in that span.

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