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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Wednesday, March 19th (All times Eastern)

Tampa Bay Lightning (37-24-7) at Toronto Maple Leafs (36-26-8), 7 p.m.

(SportsNetwork.com) - A crucial battle in the Eastern Conference playoff race is on tap Wednesday at Air Canada Centre, as the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Tampa Bay Lighting in an Atlantic Division showdown.

Tampa Bay currently holds the last of the Atlantic's three automatic bids to the playoffs, but the Maple Leafs are just one point behind. Toronto is also in postseason position at the moment, occupying the first of the East's two wild card berths.

After winning the final three tests of a six-game homestand, the Lightning hope to carry some momentum on the road for tonight's important clash. So far in 2013-14, however, Tampa Bay has come up empty against the Maple Leafs.

Toronto is 2-0 against the Lightning this season and has won three of four and seven of the past nine meetings in this series. Tampa Bay also has lost four in a row at Air Canada Centre.

The Bolts dropped a 3-2 regulation decision in Toronto on Jan. 28 and were handed a 4-1 setback at home on Feb. 6. The clubs are set to meet once more in the regular season when the Leafs visit Tampa Bay Times Forum on April 8.

The Lightning began their recent homestand with three straight losses before beating Florida, New Jersey and Vancouver to post a solid 3-1-2 mark during the stay in Central Florida.

The brief surge has seen Tampa Bay log at least a point in five straight games and the Bolts would like to make it six-game point streak with another win on Wednesday.

"We've got points in five straight games at a time when we really need them," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper remarked. "Hopefully this is good momentum for us going on the road."

Tampa Bay is kicking off a three-game road trip on Wednesday and also will visit Ottawa and Pittsburgh during the swing. The Lighting are 17-16-2 as the visiting team this season.

The Lightning were last in action on Monday when they notched a 4-3 regulation win over the Canucks.

Ondrej Palat continued his five-game point streak with a goal and an assist to help Tampa down Vancouver. Palat, a 22-year-old Czech winger, has four goals and five assists during the run and has been a pleasant surprise for the Bolts this season, posting 18 goals and 46 points through 68 games.

Steven Stamkos also registered a goal and an assist in the Lightning's third straight victory. Valtteri Filppula and Tom Pyatt also scored while goaltender Ben Bishop made 25 stops in the win.

Bishop expects to start tonight for Tampa, but the former Ottawa Senator is just 2-4-0 with a 3.05 goals against average and .884 save percentage in seven career games against Toronto.

Toronto has struggled of late, losing two straight and three of its last four games. The Leafs hope to get back on track Wednesday when they play the first test of a two-game homestand. The residency also includes Saturday's important divisional tilt against the rival Canadiens.

The Maple Leafs are 22-11-1 as the home team this season compared to a 14-15-7 mark on the road.

Toronto wrapped a five-game road trip on Tuesday with a 3-2 regulation loss in Detroit. Gustav Nyquist scored a pair of goals to lead the Red Wings to the close victory at Joe Louis Arena.

Jake Gardiner and James van Riemsdyk had one goal apiece for the Maple Leafs, while James Reimer allowed all three goals on 31 shots.

"It was average. There was some good and bad throughout the five games," Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri said of the team's five-game road trip.

Jonathan Bernier sat out his second straight game with a strained groin and the club's No. 1 goaltender is considered day-to-day. Reimer could get the start on back-to-back nights and is 2-3-0 with a 2.94 GAA in five career games against Tampa Bay.

Drew MacIntyre, who has been serving as the backup with Bernier sidelined, has not seen action in an NHL game since making two appearances with Buffalo during the 2011-12 season.

03/19 10:37:58 ET

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Final
NCCU 55
DELST 54
 
Final
UNC 93
SYR 83
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CAR
TAM
 
7:30pm Monday
BRK 0
POR 0
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NYK 0
SAC 0
Final
OKC 92
MIN 84
Final
MEM 103
ORL 94
Final
NOP 99
PHI 74
Final
UTA 90
BOS 99
Final
LAC 102
DEN 98
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IND
TOR
 
7:30pm Tonight
DET
CLE
 
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MIA
MIL
 
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DAL
MEM
 
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GSW
CHI
 
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LAL
WAS
 
Final
AMER 66
ARMY 68
 
Final
OU 59
CLST 56
 
Final
NCCU 55
DELST 54
 
Final
PBY 54
HIGH 63
 
Final
UNC 93
SYR 83
Final
DET 53
WRST 64
 
Final
NCAT 71
COPST 84
 
Final
SCST 65
HAMP 56
 
Final
COOK 42
HOW 45
 
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NWST 80
NICST 51
 
Final
NO 87
CARK 67
 
Final
CAMP 78
GWEBB 59
 
Final
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MDES 72
 
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INCWORD 86
MCNST 84
 
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NORST 70
 
Final
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SHSU 80
 
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LAM 65
STEPH 82
 
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SELA 61
TAMCC 70
 
Final
VALPO 73
UWMIL 48
 
Final
ALAAM 78
ALCOR 66
 
Final
ALAST 63
SOUTH 59
 
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ARKPB 105
PVU 68
 
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ISU 89
TEX 86
Final
MVSU 84
TXSOU 85
 
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AKR
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KSU
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VCU
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MON
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CAR
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