GAME DAY: Lightning at Maple Leafs 3/14/11

Lightning (38-22-9) at Maple Leafs (30-29-10) at 7:oo p.m.

The fourth and final meeting between the Maple Leafs and the Lightning is a must-win of sorts for both teams.  Both have played mediocre at best lately, and both are looking to get out of ruts.  The difference is the Lightning’s rut is making them drop in the playoff picture, while the Maple Leafs rut is keeping them out of the playoffs.

The Bolts won the first three meetings 4-0, 4-3, and 2-0.  These tams are statistically pretty evenly matched except for one category: special teams.  Lightning have the strong edge on both the power play and the penalty kill.  That will likely be a major factor in the difference in this game.

The Leafs are getting life-and-death desperate regarding the playoffs.  They need to win most of their there remaining games to make it, and by “most”, I mean nearly all.  In order to make it, they need to go on a run, as most of the lower-seeded playoff teams are playing well.

The Leafs’ situation is a little more dire than the Lightning, who, barring something extraordinary, are going to make the playoffs.  However, positioning is becoming an issue for the Bolts, who are now only 2 points ahead of Montreal for the 5th seed.  They could easily drop to 7th or 8th if they don’t turn things around soon.

The Lightning’s offensive slump is still a point of concern.  Last week, Boucher called out the team’s mental toughness, and he was absolutely right in doing so.  This team has all of the tools and personnel to make a deep playoff run.  Where they can be beat is between the ears, and that seems to be happening as they allow this slump to snowball.  What they need is a really good beatdown on a lower-seeded team, and they could be tonight if they can exploit rookie goaltender James Reimer.  Roloson is expected to get the start for the Lightning.

St. Louis and Stamkos are beginning to turn things around, and the close loss to the Panthers indicates that the Lightning are about ready to break out of their slump.  Hopefully that will begin tonight.