Tampa Bay (42-21-5) at Toronto (41-23-3)

Cloudy Currently: Toronto, ON
Temp: 36° F
  • Game info: 7:30 pm EST Tue Mar 23, 2004
  • TV: SUN, CTV
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t need this type of distraction.

Still fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs will have to overcome the suspension of enforcer Wade Belak when they take on the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning.

The league announced Monday that Belak would be suspended eight games for his two-handed slash to the face of Colorado defenseman Ossi Vaananen during Toronto’s 5-2 win on Saturday.

“It was a little severe I think,” Belak said. “I wasn’t expecting to walk away with less than three (games), but I thought no more than five. Getting six plus two, it’s kind of harsh.”

Belak is a repeat offender, having received a two-game suspension in November 2002 when he elbowed Washington defenseman Brendan Witt in the head.

This suspension will cost Belak $67,682.94 in forfeited salary. More importantly, he will not be with the team for the remaining regular season games and the first two in the playoffs.

The Maple Leafs enter this game one point behind Northeast Division-leading Boston and three behind Tampa Bay, which has dropped two straight.

The Lightning failed to increase their lead atop the conference on Sunday, losing 3-0 to the New York Islanders. The loss came a day after the Lightning squandered a three-goal lead in a 5-4 setback at Boston.

“We were going so good,” Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. “We knew we weren’t going to win all the games the rest of the year, but we didn’t think we’d lose two or three games in a row and have a slump like we have right now.”

The Lightning have dropped four of five overall, including two losses to the eighth-place Islanders in six days. Prior to its skid, Tampa Bay had earned at least one point in 18 straight games.

However, the Lightning have already won the Southeast Division and are guaranteed no lower than a third seed and home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

After the visit to Toronto, Tampa Bay plays its final five games at home.

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