Skidding Toronto Maple Leafs host Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA, FL – FEBRUARY 19: Marc-Andre Bergeron #47 of the Tampa Bay Lightning passes the puck during the first period of the game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on February 19, 2013 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

After a decent start to the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team has cooled off significantly. Just 20 days ago, on the first of March, the Leafs were just 3 points behind the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Northeast division with a 13-9-0 record. Since then, the Leafs are 2-3-2 and have dropped are now 11 points behind the Canadiens in the division. The Leafs won their first two games of March, but have since lost 5 in a row. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning have struggled for wins since holding a 6-1-0 record early in February. The Lightning have struggled to win more than 2 games in a row since winning 5 in a row early in the season. Visiting Toronto gives the team a chance to win a 3rd straight game. The Lightning have won the only game played against Toronto this season, winning in Tampa by a score of 4-2 on the 19th of February.

Points have not come easy for the Lightning this season. Ask any fan about the Lightning in the last month and a half or so and you will likely receive a lot of negative feedback. However, despite all of the struggles, the Lightning have managed to stay within 5 points of the final playoff spot and 7 points within first place in the Southeast division.

The Lightning have been dealing with injuries again as of late. Benoit Pouliot (upper-body), Vincent Lecavalier (lower-body), Ryan Malone (upper-body), and Victor Hedman (upper-body)  have all sustained injuries that will keep them out of the next few games for the Lightning. The Leafs meanwhile are a healthy team, but the Lightning are not a team that has been any weaker due to injuries. AHL call-ups Radko Gudas, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Dana Tyrell, and Alex Killorn have provided a spark that the Lightning seemed to have been missing since being a winning team early in the season. While Cory Conacher has cooled off in his last 5 games (just 1 assist and a minus 1 rating) he has been able to play well defensively as well as provide some speed when top stars like Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis cannot.

The goal tending story for the Lightning has been more consistent and high quality as of late despite a lack of wins. In his last 5 games, big man Anders Lindback has posted save percentages of higher than 93%, making at least 25 saves or more in each of those five games. Mathieu Garon, meanwhile, has had only one game in his last 5 with a save percentage under 90% (89% against the Bruins on 3/2). It seems as if a lot of what the Lightning have been missing throughout the season is finally beginning to materialize for the team. This could be the beginning of a playoff run for the Bolts.

Note: Victor Hedman will be playing tonight, while Pouliot may be ready this weekend… via Twitter @erlendssonTBOErlendsson also reports Garon off the ice first in this morning’s practice, meaning he will likely be the starter tonight… According to the Leaf’s Twitter account, James Reimer is likely to start tonight… Fellow colleague Tasha Meares has more on Malone’s Injury

Follow me on Twitter: @Gabriel0430

Topics: Benoit Pouliot, Mathieu Garon, Ryan Malone, Toronto Maple Leafs, Victor Hedman, Vincent Lecavalier

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