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Preview: Maple Leafs are charging into Tampa to face the Bolts

After beating two wet noodles from the dregs of the Atlantic, the Leafs get a real test against the top team in the East.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game # 73

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SUN, TSN4

Opponent SBNation Site: Raw Charge

It’s every Toronto resident’s duty to go to Florida in March, so the Leafs are merely fulfilling their obligation by travelling south for a quick tour. Naturally, even if you were sick or a little banged up yesterday, the day the plane takes off for Tampa, suddenly you feel better.

So it is that Frederik Andersen, Auston Matthews, Nikita Zaitsev and Leo Komarov are on the trip, although only Andersen is in the game for sure. He has to at least backup, as Garret Sparks is back with the Marlies. Update: he is confirmed as the starter.

The Leafs are coming off two really easy wins off of two really bad teams. It is time to change gears. And while a player like Andreas Johnsson was absolutely on fire against the Habs, the Lightning are less likely to just let him shoot 10 times at their net.

One change from the team that stomped the Habs into tiny little Bleu, Blanc et Rouge bits of dust is that Josh Leivo is in for Dominic Moore. The point of the change seems to be to get Leivo on the second power play unit.

Tampa, who dropped a game to Boston by not really trying to win it, followed up with a fairly easy win against the Oilers on the next day. The Bolts dramatically outshot the Oilers, who have no defence to speak of, but the interesting thing was the way the fairly disinterested Edmonton team could still gain the zone against Tampa.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Lines are from Monday’s practice and assume no Matthews or Zaitsev

Forward Lines

Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
Andreas Johnsson- William Nylander - Zach Hyman
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Josh Leivo - Tomas Plekanec - Kasperi Kapanen

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak
Travis Dermott -Connor Carrick

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen
Curtis McElhinney

Tampa Bay Lightning

Lines are from the morning skate today

Forward Lines

J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Adam Erne
Chris Kunitz - Anthony Cirelli - Ryan Callahan

Defence Pairings

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Mikhail Sergachev - Braydon Coburn

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy - starter
Louis Domingue


Tampa mixed up their lines a bit from the Boston game to the Edmonton game. And the morning skate today was even more stirred up, with the return after months out of Ondrej Palat. If he does play tonight, the biggest effect there is that he pushes Yanni Gourde lower down the lineup where he belongs.

This Tampa lineup is not deep at forward. They routinely play Gourde, Adam Erne and Cory Conacher way too far up. Even with the better-looking lineup with Palat in it, I’ll still take Bozak and the boys over that third line.

The defence situation is a different story. That top pair is fine-grade stuff, and McDonagh-Girardi are a wash with Gardiner-Polak. I was amazed at the dumb shit™ Sergachev was doing in the two most recent games, so I think Travis Dermott might win on that measure of a rookie defender. Sergachev is a heavier offensive threat, however.

I can’t help but notice that Gourde, who is getting buzz as the next Marchessault, has the highest on-ice shooting percentage on the team. He is Tampa’s Richard Panik, which is funny because they could have just kept Panik and been no worse off. Gourde’s getting away with it for now, but at some point, he will turn back into a pumpkin.

My feeling on this team is that the Leafs win once you get to the depth matchups — maybe once you get to the second line — but you have to get there first, which means keeping Stamkos and Kucherov as unfruitful as they looked against Boston the other day. Good luck Naz, you’ll need it.

Score early, score often, Leafs. And keep scoring until the bitter end. That’s the only recipe that works.