The Tampa Bay Lightning are battling for first place in the Southeast Division, but their confidence is a bit shaken.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are sitting just outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference, yet they’re feeling good about their position.
The Lightning look to avoid losing for the seventh time in eight games Monday night when they visit the Maple Leafs, who are hoping to build on a crucial victory.
Tampa Bay (38-22-9) opened March with a five-point lead over Washington in the Southeast, but has since gone 1-4-2 to drop five points back of the surging Capitals, winners of eight in a row.
“All the games that used to turn our way just don’t turn our way now,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said after Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to last-place Florida. “There are 13 games left, and we can’t not show up.”
Tampa Bay, which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007, managed to get a point Saturday, rallying form a 3-1 deficit with less than eight minutes remaining in the third period on goals from Vincent Lecavalier(notes) and Simon Gagne(notes). The game seemed headed for a shootout until Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison(notes) scored with 16 seconds left in overtime.
“Right now we don’t have the depth,” Boucher said. “We’re missing (Ryan) Malone and (Steve) Downie - two of our top six guys - and we’re just an average team right now. And average teams have to battle hard.”
Neither Malone, out since Feb. 10 with an abdomen injury, nor Downie, sidelined since March 5 with a lower-body injury, are expected to return soon.
The Maples Leafs (30-29-10) have even more work to do in order to capture their first playoff berth since 2004, but they seem to be headed in the right direction.
In what was being labeled a must-win by a number of Toronto players, the Maple Leafs defeated eighth-place Buffalo 4-3 on Saturday to snap a three-game skid.
Mikhail Grabovski(notes) and Phil Kessel(notes) scored in a 2:33 span in the final period to help Toronto rally and pull within four points of the Sabres. The Maple Leafs have since fallen six back with Buffalo winning Sunday, but that deficit would be 10 points had they lost Saturday.
The Maples Leafs now look keep it going and avoid suffering their first season series sweep to Tampa Bay.
The Lightning have outscored Toronto 10-3 in winning the first three games this season. Gagne, St. Louis and Steven Stamkos(notes), the NHL leader with 43 goals, have each scored twice for Tampa Bay, which is 8-1-2 in the last 11 meetings.
Dwayne Roloson(notes) has been in net for two of the games against Toronto this season, stopping 55 of 56 shots. He is 5-1-0 with a 1.47 goals-against average and a shutout in six starts against the Maple Leafs since 2008-09.