As the Tampa Bay Lightning look to rebound from a rough road trip while awaiting the possible return of their superstar before the Olympic break, the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to end their struggles away from home.
The Lightning can avoid losing to the Maple Leafs for the second time in 10 days by handing Toronto a fourth straight road defeat Thursday night.
Recovering from a broken leg suffered Nov. 11, Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos had Saturday's home game against Detroit as his target return date. However, it was announced Wednesday that he will be evaluated again in two to three weeks and will not be able to represent Team Canada at the Olympics.
''Today is obviously very disappointing for me,'' Stamkos, who has 14 goals and nine assists in 17 games, said in a statement. ''I honestly believe that we did everything possible in order to have my injured leg ready in time for the Olympics, but I realize you can't force healing. I know, in the best interest of my long term health, I cannot represent Canada in Sochi, as much as I would like to. I look forward to returning to the Lightning once cleared by the medical team.''
The Lightning (32-19-5) could use Stamkos' help after totaling eight goals despite 151 shots on their recent 1-3-0 road trip. Valtteri Filppula returned from missing a game with a lower-body injury to score in a 2-1 loss at Minnesota on Tuesday.
"Guys gave an effort (Tuesday)," said coach Jon Cooper, whose team is 0 for 15 on the power play in the last six games. "They worked hard, just didn't work smart.
"We've got to regroup. We've got two (games before the break) left. Regroup and focus on Toronto."
Though Tampa Bay opened that trip with a 3-2 loss to the Leafs (30-22-6) on Jan. 28, it will try for a third consecutive home victory in the series.
Leading scorer Martin St. Louis has eight goals and eight assists in 14 games, but had his six-game point streak against the Maple Leafs snapped last week. He recorded a hat trick during a 5-2 home win over Toronto on April 24.
The Maple Leafs' three-game winning streak ended with a 4-1 loss at Florida on Tuesday. David Clarkson scored in his return from an eight-game absence with an elbow injury, but Toronto managed 21 shots while allowing 48.
Toronto has lost three times in the past 12, each defeat coming in the club's last three road contests.
"We didn't seem to have any jump or passion to play the game, and it's kind of mind-boggling right now," coach Randy Carlyle told the Maple Leafs' official website after his team fell to 10-12-5 on the road.
Toronto's Nazem Kadri has at least one point in six straight games and four goals with 11 assists in his last 10. He recorded half of those goals against the Lightning last week.
Leafs teammate and United States Olympian Phil Kessel has two goals and six assists during an eight-game point streak against Tampa Bay.
Toronto's Jonathan Bernier has a 3.47 goals-against average during the team's 0-2-1 road slide, but made 40 saves against the Lightning last week.
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