Tampa Bay Lightning @ Toronto Maple Leafs - Game 75
07:00 PM at Scotiabank Arena
Watch on: SN, TVAS, BSSUN

The Leafs last game was at home on April 1 against the Florida Panthers, which Toronto won by a score of 6-4 in regulation. The Leafs have a record of 43-22-9 for a 0.642 Points %.

The Tampa Bay Lightning last played at home on April 1 against the Detroit Red Wings. The Lightning lost by a score of 4-2 in regulation, and their current league record is 41-26-7 for a 0.601 Points %.


Just as with the Panthers, the Leafs played the Lightning twice early in the season, and play them again twice at the end. I have no meaningful recollection of those autumn games, and the Leafs now seem like some other team entirely. Maybe the Lightning are too.

By the record, the three teams are not very far apart. Five or six games here or there, an OT that ended differently or a goalie who had a better or worse day and they'd all be in tighter knot in the standings. It seems like 82 regular season games should separate teams out more firmly, but it doesn't work like that. Nonetheless, how have Tampa ended up in fourth place?

The simple answer is that the Atlantic could still have five playoff teams with the Sabres not far out, and the points have to be sorted out between a lot of teams. The other simple answer is that Andrei Vasilevskiy has had the worst season of his career. Per Moneypuck's Goals Saved Above Expected per 60 in All-Situations, Vasilevskiy is 40th for goalies with at least 20 games played. For serious big-game starters at 30 games played, he's 26th.

And now I remember those autumn games. The Lightning got some AHL/ECHL level goalies and just went with it early on while Vasilevskiy was recovering from surgery. They got very lucky with their results or they'd be the Sabres right now and would live as the cautionary tale about putting all your eggs in a star goaltender basket.

But what about the team in front of the star? At five-on-five the Lighting are pretty indistinguishable from the Leafs. They have 51% Corsi and a slightly worse Expected Goals. The Leafs have a slightly better ranking. They allow a good, but not great Expected Goals Against, so aren't really making life easy for whoever is in net. They are a touch better than the Leafs. And Nikita Kucherov might be leading the points standings, but the Lightning have a very tepid offence as measured by Expected Goals for.

Their power play is better, not what it used to be, but they've been scoring way over expected there, and match the Leafs in value from power play goals. And bizarrely, the team with the second worse Save % at five-on-five, has the second best shorthanded. A lot of that is an extremely effective PK, but some of it has to just be chance or the nature of Vasilevskiy's recovery.


Chris Krenn via Daily Faceoff from the last game

Anthony Duclair - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Michael Eyssimont - Nicholas Paul - Mitchell Chaffee
Tanner Jeannot - Luke Glendening - Tyler Motte

Victor Hedman - Darren Raddysh
Matt Dumba - Erik Cernak
Emil Martinsen-Lilleberg - Nick Perbix

Andrei Vasilivskiy - assumed starter
Jonas Johansson or Matt Tomkins depending on injury status of Johansson


In excellent news, Morgan Rielly is back! It is likely that Mark Giordano will sit out, so the arrangement of the defence is an open question. Joel Edmundson is skating, but not ready to return.

Today's skate was optional, so no line rushes, and the lines below are subject to change.


Last Game (04/01) via Daily Faceoff

Tyler Bertuzzi - Auston Matthews - Max Domi
Bobby McMann - John Tavares - William Nylander
Matthew Knies - Pontus Holmberg - Nicholas Robertson
Connor Dewar - David Kämpf - Ryan Reaves

T.J. Brodie - Jake McCabe
Morgan Rielly - Ilya Lyubushkin
Simon Benoit - Conor Timmins

Ilya Samsonov
Joe Woll - likely starter

The Game

This is going to sound like the advice for playing the Panthers, but play the emotional side of the game a little smarter and stay out of the box.

The Lightning and the Panthers both have played the Leafs like violins in past playoff series, riling them up and reaping the reward. Ironically, it's exactly the same game anyone on Twitter or in the media can play on Leafs fans. Press the easy button, get an overreaction. The Leafs need to get smarter. The fans can do as they will.

A point of any kind, I read, will see the Leafs clinch a playoff spot. They've had a playoff spot all year, but the X means it's real, and no more fanciful tales of not making the playoffs can be told.