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Game Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Tampa Bay Lightning

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Can the Leafs make it four wins in a row?

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images

MAPLE LEAFS @ LIGHTNING: GAME# 35

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena, Much Warmer Place

Broadcast/Streaming: Sportsnet Ontario (blackouts in effect)

Opponent SBNation Site: Raw Charge

If you have been occupied with holiday activities for the past week you may be in for a shock looking at the league standings. The Leafs had a terrible home stand in the middle of December, losing 5 of 6 games (two in shootouts). Now, out on the road, they’ve clawed their way back up the standings, cobbling together a three game win streak against the Avalanche, Coyotes, and Panthers.

Auston Matthews has 4 points in those three games, and so does Jake Gardiner. William Nylander has busted his slump, scoring a goal in each of the past two. Leo Komarov picked up two goals against the Coyotes on Christmas Eve Eve.

The Leafs are back up to the playoff bubble, playing tonight the very team that stands in their way.

However, not every player on the team is having good luck. The Leafs scored 7 goals in the past two games. Yet, surprisingly, all of Kadri, Marner, Bozak and JvR, offence leaders, did not score any of those goals, or even earn a single assist on any of them. Though perhaps JvR should have had one...

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Connor Brown
Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
John van Nieuwendyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitchell Marner
Matt Martin - Frederik Gauthier - Nikita Soshnikov

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev
Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick
Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Antoine Bibeau
Frederik Andersen

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Forward Lines

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin
Alex Killorn - ?? - ???
Michael Bournival - JT Brown- Nikita Nesterov

Defence Pairings

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn - Slater Koekkoek

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Kristers Gudlevskis

You can see there’s some question marks in the Lightning lineup. Those are because of injuries last night to Brayden Point and Vladsislav Namestnikov. Neither is expected to be back in tonight. They will join Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan, and Ben Bishop watching from the press-box, all out with injuries.

Yanni Gourde and Erik Condra are likely replacements. (s/t to Achariya)

This is a team depleted of key players, and it shows in both the results of games, and in the standings. Winning only four of their past ten, the Bolts have actually slipped out of a playoff slot, something unfathomable at the start of the season. In fact, a win tonight would see the Leafs tie them in points. Combined with having two games in hand, the Leafs would bump them down the standings to become the team on the edge of the playoffs.

However, this doesn’t mean that they have no offence left. The likes of Tyler Johnson proved that last night, scoring twice on Carey Price in a rare 4-3 defeat for the Habs with Price in net.

Lightning coach John Cooper confirmed that Vasilevskiy will start in net again tonight, while Babcock said yesterday he plans to give Antoine Bibeau has second ever NHL start. Maybe tonight he can convince Katya to Bibieve.

Vasilevskiy has a raw all situations SV% of 0.915 this season, which is basically his career average. He’s consistent, which coaches like in a goalie. He’s also consistently 6’3, which coaches love in a goalie. For the record, Bibeau is 6’3 too.

Somewhere, Jhonas Enroth has a sad.

Also, if you know the location of Karri Ramo, please call the Leafs head office.

I would like to have a more insightful predictive analysis here, but this is going to be a really quirky game. We’ve got backup goalies, we’ve got backup players because of injuries, and the Leafs are being weird and hard to predict this season, though no less than James Mirtle has now declared the Leafs a “playoff team”.

You now know who jinxed the team if they drive the eighteen wheeler off the cliff again.