Maple Leafs-Lightning Preview
GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (30-14-8-3) at Tampa Bay Lightning (28-17-6-3).
TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EST.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are probably one of the few teams that wished the
All-Star break was delayed.
The Maple Leafs will try to regain some of the momentum generated from one
of the best games in the NHL this season when they open up the second half
against the surging Tampa Bay Lightning.
Following a 4-1 home loss to lowly Chicago last Tuesday, the Maple Leafs
were heading in the wrong direction fast. Things got worse Thursday against
Ottawa, when Toronto fell behind 4-0 in the second period.
However, the Leafs pulled off a dramatic turnaround, rallying in regulation
before winning 5-4 on Owen Nolan's slap shot with 30.7 seconds left in
overtime. The victory kept Toronto a point behind Eastern Conference-leading
Philadelphia and two points ahead of Boston in the Northeast Division going
into the break.
"A little bit of luck, a little bit of heart," said Trevor Kidd, who made
26 saves. "We'll stick that in our back pocket."
Kidd has started the last two games in goal in place of Ed Belfour, who
suffered a back injury during a 5-1 win over Ottawa on Jan. 31. Belfour may
play on Tuesday.
If he doesn't, Kidd will be faced with the unenviable task of shutting down
the hottest team in the Eastern Conference.
Owners of a 15-point lead atop the Southeast Division, the Lightning have
won seven of their last eight, including a 5-2 win in Nashville on Thursday.
"You slowly build your confidence and you find your way," Tampa Bay coach
John Tortorella said. "It's such a grind. You can't get too low when you're
losing hockey games and you can't get too high."
Tampa Bay went 5-12-2 from Nov. 25 until Jan. 2. Since then, the Lightning
have gone 13-3-0-2.
"When you win hockey games, it's a lot easier to come to the rink," said
Cory Stillman, who had three assists on Thursday. "We were up 10 points in the
standings early this year, and then we were down 10 points. We're trying to win
our division and get as high as we can in the conference."
After being temporarily replaced as the starting goalie by John Grahame in
January, Nikolai Khabibulin appears to have won back the job.
Khabibulin is 3-1 with a .918 save percentage (67-for-73) in starting four
of Tampa Bay's last five games.