The Toronto Maple Leafs hope that a return to home ice Tuesday night to play the Tampa Bay Lightning will help them regain their winning touch.
After earning a standings point in 15 consecutive games (12-0-3), the Leafs suffered regulation losses to the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals on a two-game road trip.
The Lightning, meanwhile, extended their winning streak to five games on Saturday when they opened a four-game road trip with a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
With two games in hand, the third-place Lightning have pulled to within three points of the second-place Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division, led by the Boston Bruins.
“Seems like every time you look at Boston, they’re winning,” Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano said. “That’s our goal, to get to the top of our division. We were happy with the streak we were on. We have to get it back.”
After losing 3-1 in New York Thursday to end the team’s point streak and Mitchell Marner’s 23-game individual point streak, Toronto lost 5-2 at Washington on Saturday.
“That’s what happens when you’re buzzing around and winning a lot of games,” said William Nylander, who scored a goal on Saturday. “Teams play extra hard against you and that’s the way it goes.”
Goaltender Ilya Samsonov had his two-game shutout streak end on Saturday and Michael Bunting had his 10-game points streak stopped.
Samsonov allowed five goals against the Capitals, his former team.
“We lost,” Samsonov said. “It’s a hard loss for me. I think I could have played better. Our luck has turned a little bit. Couple of bad bounces.”
The goals left a hill to overcome for Toronto.
“They score 10 seconds into the third period (making it 4-2). That’s a tough climb from there,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We’d had an excellent second period, didn’t get rewarded for it, didn’t finish our chances.”
The Lightning have played 15 of their past 21 games at home, going 15-5-1 over that span.
“Nobody’s really separated themselves other than Boston and Toronto,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They have kind of taken off with it. But we’re kind of climbing our way back into the conversation with those teams.”
The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime Dec. 3 in Tampa.
“It’s early in the season, so there’s a lot of hockey to play,” said Brandon Hagel, who scored twice for the Lightning on Saturday. “But, of course, you always want to be in that playoff spot and always want to be in the running so, of course, everyone’s going to take a peek at standings.”
During their recent surge, the Lightning feel that they have picked up their defensive play.
“We started to be better in the middle right in front of our goaltender and I think that’s what’s made it so (there are fewer) goals against,” Lightning center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “This is an area where we strive to be better and we have to be better and I think this team has been known to be really good in that area (in) past years.”
–Field Level Media