Last 10: Tampa Bay (4-5-1); Toronto (3-7-0)
Season Series: The Bolts and Leafs face off tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum for the third of four meetings this season. The teams split the first two games of the year, picking up a win each in the other’s home arena. Tampa Bay defeated Toronto in overtime at the Air Canada Centre on Nov. 3 behind Antero Niittymaki’s season-high 40 saves and the Maple Leafs picked up two points in Tampa on Nov. 25 in a 4-3 win. Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone each have a pair of goals in two games against the Leafs this season. Tampa Bay and Toronto will meet for the final time this season on Mar. 11 in Toronto.
The Big Story: Four out of the last six meetings between the two clubs have been decided by just one goal, with the Bolts going 2-1-1 in those contests. The slim margin of victory in recent history between the two can be attributed to good goaltending, as Antero Niittymaki is 2-1-1 against teams from the Northeast division this year with a .937 save percentage and a 2.21goals-against average. He made a season-high 40 saves on 41 shots in the Lightning’s 2-1 overtime win over the Leafs on Nov. 3. Mike Smith, currently on Injured Reserve, also posts an impressive record against tonight’s opponent, going 2-0-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average for his career against Toronto. Together, they have the Lightning ranked third in the league for the least goals allowed at home with 51. Toronto, on the other hand, hasn’t been so lucky. Vesa Toskala has given up 10 goals in his last two games and 10 in his last three contests versus Tampa Bay.
LIGHTNING – The team returned home yesterday after completing a three-game road trip. Tonight marks the first contest of a four-game home stand at the St. Pete Times Forum, which wraps up next Friday against Anaheim. The Lightning have gone unbeaten in regulation in five out of its last six at home, posting four wins. Vincent Lecavalier notched his 13th of the season in the club’s last game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and Alex Tanguay also scored, recording his second goal in three games. Just four points out of a playoff spot, Tampa Bay has an excellent opportunity to climb back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference tonight against the NHL’s most porous defense. Toronto has given up 13 goals in the first three games on their current five-game road trip and has surrendered 3.43 goals per game this season.
MAPLE LEAFS – Toronto makes it second stop to the St. Pete Times Forum this season for its second-to-last matchup on their five-game road stint. The Leafs have won just two of their last 12 on the road and will try to turn things around against the Lightning. That might be difficult, as Toronto has allowed 13 goals in the first three games of its trip and leads the NHL with 177 goals allowed. On Tuesday, Toronto fell to the Thrashers 4-3 at Philips Arena despite holding a 2-0 lead after the first period thanks to two goals from Alexei Ponikarovsky. The Leafs are at least starting to get more scoring, posting seven goals in its last two road games after being held under three in nine of the previous 10.
Who’s Hot: The Lightning’s Vincent Lecavalier is riding a five-game point streak in which he has tallied three goals and four assists, and Martin St. Louis comes in with five points in as many games, including a pair of assists in two straight. Alex Tanguay also has five points in his last five, while Steve Downie has collected three points in his last four.
Toronto’s Phil Kessel has amassed seven points in his last six contests and Tomas Kaberle has a goal and two assists in his last three games. Alexei Ponikarovski also has recorded four points in his last two for the Maple Leafs.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Mike Smith (cervical (neck) strain, placed on Injured Reserve retro-active to Jan. 12, day-to-day). MAPLE LEAFS – Mikhail Grabovski (wrist, placed on Injured Reserve), Mike Komisarek (upper body) and Wayne Primeau (knee, placed on Injured Reserve).
Quotable: “These are big games coming up. And when you lose a couple, they get bigger and bigger.” – Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet
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