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Leafs vs. Bolts Preview: Showdown For The Playoffs

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Tampa Bay comes to Toronto for an enormously important game.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Game 80: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs

Time: 7:30 PM

Location: Air Canada Centre

Broadcast/Streaming: TSN 4

Opponent SBNation Site: Raw Charge (hi Acha!)

Well, here we are. Tampa Bay is now making its last charge at a playoff spot. The only teams the Lightning can still catch are Toronto and Ottawa, and they have to win their last three games straight to have any hope of catching either. Toronto can make the playoffs by winning tonight in any fashion. If they lose in a shootout, they will preclude Tampa from catching them, but they would still have the longshot Islanders to worry about.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner

Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - Connor Brown

Matt Martin - Brian Boyle - Kasperi Kapanen

Defence

Morgan Rielly - Connor Carrick

Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev

Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

Since Brian Boyle is practicing normally, it looks like the Leafs are going to run the same skating lineup as last game—one that has been so good at times and looked so worn out against Washington. Only other thing to note about this lineup is that Roman Polak at times plays up the right side higher than third pair, as Mike Babcock has been willing to modify his pairings in-game.

At this point in the season it’s mostly dance with the one that brought you. Let’s hope the rookies have their magic going.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards*

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Cory Conacher - Yanni Gourde - Alex Killorn

Jonathan Drouin- Gregggg McKeggg - Joel Vermin

Michael Bournival - Vlad Namestnikov - Adam Erne

Defence

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Anton Stralman - Luke Witkowski

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

After a season devastated by injury, the Lightning have surged back to the edge of a playoff spot, led by some absolutely heroic work by Nikita Kucherov (second only to Crosby in goals per game for the year.) Steven Stamkos has been on the verge of a return, to judge by his practice schedule of late, but he doesn’t appear to be playing tonight. Even beyond that, though, Tampa’s lines are in flux, which brings us to...

* Tampa may or may not play C Tyler Johnson tonight, LW Gabriel Dumont is away for the birth of his child, and RW J.T. Brown is on the edge of the picture somewhere. Look back for these lines to be updated as soon as we know more.

Even if the lines are strictly as shown, the Bolts have two of the finest wingers and two of the best defenders in the NHL. The Leafs had an easy time of it when last these two teams met, but we shouldn’t expect a repeat. Tampa is good and they’re fighting for their lives.

But Toronto ought to be at its best too. This is a chance for the Leafs to punch their ticket for the playoffs. It would mark a stunning achievement for a team one year removed from last place, icing one of the rookie-heaviest lineups in history. And it’s there for the taking.

Go Leafs Go.