Lightning (32-30-7, 71 Points) vs. Maple Leafs (30-32-8, 68 Points)
Last 10: Tampa Bay (5-4-1); Toronto (1-8-1)
Steven Stamkos enters the matchup with 84 points (50G, 34A) on the season as well as points in seven of his last eight games with 11 points (7G, 4A) during that stretch
Stamkos is only the seventh player in NHL history to register multiple 50-goal seasons before his 23rd birthday, joining the ranks of Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Joe Nieuwendyk, Pavel Bure and Alex Ovechkin
Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski has 8 points in his last eight games while Phil Kessel has 7 points that same span
Lightning defenseman Keith Aulie and Maple Leafs forward Carter Ashton were traded for each other at this year's Trade Deadline
Teddy Purcell has points in 12 of his last 13 games for a total of 23 points (7G, 16A) over that span
Ryan Malone's current point streak stands at seven straight games (3G, 4A)
Nate Thompson enters the matchup with four points (1G, 3A) over his past three games
The Bolts and Leafs face off in the third of four total meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals, who will wrap up the four-game season set on Apr. 5. Toronto has taken each of the first two matchups on the year by a combined score of 14-4 after recording seven goals in each contest.
The Big Story:
Tampa Bay and Toronto enter Thursday’s game with hopes of making the postseason still on the line. The Lightning hold a three-point edge over the Maple Leafs and sit seven points behind division-rival Washington for the final playoff spot, but while Tampa Bay earned a win in its last game to snap a three-game losing streak, Toronto has dropped five straight and has picked a poor time to suffer through its worst stretch of the season in which it has just two wins in its past 17 games.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay continues on its season-long seven-game home stand as it plays in its third match of the stretch after splitting the first two games with a win and a loss each. After opening the swing at the Tampa Bay Times Forum with a 4-2 loss to the division-rival Hurricanes, the Bolts rebounded on Tuesday night by using a four-goal first period to cruise to a 6-1 victory over the defending champion Bruins. Tom Pyatt, Nate Thompson, Ryan Shannon and Victor Hedman each had goals that put the Lightning out to a 4-0 lead heading into the final 40 minutes, but it was Steven Stamkos’ 49th and 50th tallies of the season that earned the biggest ovation of the night, as he became just the sixth player in NHL history to record two 50-goal seasons before his 23rd birthday. Stamkos’ second and final goal of the evening came after Tampa Bay yielded Boston’s only goal of the game to Jordan Caron, but it also capped the scoring on Dustin Tokarski’s first career NHL victory in which he made 33 saves.
MAPLE LEAFS – Toronto plays in the third contest of a five-game road trip that concludes next week in Boston. After starting the season 9-3-1, the Maple Leafs appeared poised to end their lengthy playoff drought, but six straight losses to close out February led to Ron Wilson's firing. His replacement behind the bench hasn’t fared much better, at least yet, as Randy Carlyle has lost five straight since winning his team debut in Montreal on Mar. 3. With a 2-13-2 record in their last 17 games, the Maple Leafs are now in very real danger of missing the postseason for the seventh straight season. They nearly snapped the current losing skid in their most recent game on Tuesday at Florida, in which Tyler Bozak’s goal cut the Panthers’ lead to 2-1 heading into the final period. But a pair of power-play goals by Florida in the final 20 minutes, coupled with an empty-netter by Sean Bergenheim, ended all hopes for Toronto.
Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos has seven goals in his past seven games, while Teddy Purcell has 28 points and his past 18 games. Tom Pyatt also has points in two straight for the Lightning, and Ryan Malone is currently enjoying a seven-game point streak. Maple Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski has recorded eight points in as many games, while Phil Kessel has notched seven points in his past eight contests as well.
MAPLE LEAFS – Joffrey Lupul (separated shoulder) and Mike Brown (bruised thigh).
“It's special. That's the magical number in hockey. I was fortunate to do it once, and to do it twice is just as special. It’s still a little surreal and I’m sure it will take a little while to set in, but right now it’s a great feeling and it’s something no one can ever take away from me.” -Steven Stamkos on reaching 50 goals scored in a single season for the second consecutive year
Lightning defenseman Keith Aulie and Maple Leafs forward Carter Ashton were traded for each other at this year's Trade Deadline. Aulie has nine penalty minutes and is a +1 in six games with the Bolts, after playing in 17 games with the Maple Leafs and 23 games with the Marlies earlier this season. Aulie played his first 57 NHL games with the Maple Leafs prior to his trade to the Lightning, arriving in Toronto during the 2009-10 as part of the same deal in which the Leafs acquired Dion Phaneuf from Calgary. Ashton, a first-round Lightning draft pick in 2009, never played an NHL game with Tampa Bay, but had 35 points (19g, 16a) in 56 games with the Norfolk Admirals this season.