The Toronto Maple Leafs take a four-game winning streak into a three-game road trip that opens Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a potential first-round playoff matchup.
While the Maple Leafs continued to roll with a 5-2 home win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, the Lightning’s struggles continued with a 4-3 loss to the visiting Detroit Red Wings.
Toronto (51-20-6, 108 points) is second in the Eastern Conference and Tampa Bay (46-22-8, 100 points) is fifth. A win on Thursday could clinch home-ice advantage for Toronto in the first playoff round.
The Lightning, who have won the Stanley Cup for the past two seasons, are in a 3-4-2 funk.
“It’s becoming a little bit too much of our story. I thought after the first period, we had full control and we weren’t satisfied in sticking with it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the loss Tuesday.
“If you want to go far in the playoffs, if you want to do anything, you have to play defense,” he added. “You have to stick your ego aside and not worry about how many points you’re going to get or how much ice time you’re going to get. You have to worry about keeping the puck out of the net. Everything positive comes from that.”
Steven Stamkos provided one bolt of brilliance for the Lightning on Tuesday. He had three assists to tie Martin St. Louis as the franchise’s leading scorer with 953 points.
“It sucks to have something that’s special for me to happen in a game that we don’t win,” Stamkos said. “I definitely have Marty on my mind tonight. He still means a lot to me in what I’ve become as a person and as a player, just the role model that he’s been to me. And to have your name right up there with the great Marty St. Louis is pretty humbling, pretty, pretty surreal.”
The Maple Leafs played for the second straight game without 58-goal scorer Auston Matthews (undisclosed injury) on Tuesday. His status is uncertain for Thursday.
“We’re not just resting Auston, he has an injury,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Maybe he could play through it, but that doesn’t make sense to do so.
“We’re looking bigger picture here. You’ve got team and individual accomplishments, all those kinds of things, and we’re mindful of them, they’re important in their own way. But the ultimate goal of having us ready to compete at playoff time is what it’s all about.”
Matthews is making the trip as will Jake Muzzin (undisclosed injury), who has missed three games. Ondrej Kase (concussion) has been out for 15 games.
The Leafs are encouraged by the recent return to form of goaltender Jack Campbell, who made 37 saves Tuesday.
“He was locked in,” Keefe said. “It’s terrible that we had a breakdown there, turnover and forced the second goal but he was excellent. It was great to see. We gave up more shots than we would have liked today as a team. …That’s the biggest takeaway I’ll take out of the game (Tuesday) is Jack looked great.”
William Nylander had a goal and an assist on Tuesday. The goal was his 32nd of the season, a career best.
Mitchell Marner had an assist to give him a career-best 95 points for the season.
–Field Level Media