Toronto Maple Leafs @ Tampa Bay Lightning: Game #78
8:00 p.m. ET at Amalie Arena
TV/Streaming: TSN4
Opponent’s SB Nation Site: Raw Charge

The Leafs are playing their fifth last game of the season as the 2022 playoffs loom ever larger. This is the time of the year when the regular season loses most meaning, and with Auston Matthews out with an injury, there’s no race to 60 happening right now. However, four of the final five games down the stretch are against playoff teams, all of whom the Leafs could face in the first or second round (if they get there).

Toronto is poised to finish second in the Atlantic Division and face either Tampa Bay or Boston. Two of their other games are against Florida and Washington, who will likely play each other in the first round and the winner playing the Leafs if they can get four wins. Therefore these next nine days are more-or-less preview days, and a last chance to see some opponents before things get very real.

First up, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview and Game Day Thread

The Bolts are a good team, but they have struggled this season compared to what they were expected to do following back-to-back Stanley Cups. Last year, they rolled into the playoffs with a better shot share and one of the best defenses in the league by expected goals (plus Andrei Vasilevskiy to mop up anything that got through).

This year, the defense is worse — thanks in large part to the team losing their defensive third line and the replacements not having the same impact, and a slightly worse offense, this time with Nikita Kucherov. They also still have Andrei Vasilevskiy mopping up a large portion of shots each night.

The Lightning have largely turned into a team with goaltending at the forefront, success when the stars show up, and a lethal power play when it wants to be on. Their big struggle this year has been getting a consistent effort game to game, period to period. It’s seriously put them in bad situations all year. That said, many believe that’ll all be fixed once the pressure of the playoffs come back, and I think they’re right.

On the Leafs side, the team is still without Auston Matthews, who will be missing his third straight game. Erik Källgren is getting the start tonight, with Jack Campbell playing Florida on Saturday. This won’t be two teams at their best playing each other tonight, but what will be interesting is seeing what the supporting cast can do on both sides and what type of game we might expect to see for 4-7 games in May.

Leafs Lines

Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
William Nylander - Alexander Kerfoot - Pierre Engvall
Michael Bunting - David Kämpf - Colin Blackwell
Nick Abruzzese - Jason Spezza - Wayne Simmonds

Morgan Rielly - Ilya Lyubushkin
T.J. Brodie - Justin Holl
Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren

Erik Källgren - confirmed starter
Jack Campbell

Lightning Lines

Nick Paul - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Ross Colton
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Brandon Hagel
Patrick Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Zach Bogosian

Andrei Vasilevskiy - confirmed starter
Brian Elliott