The slumping Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t been able to get things together over the last two weeks.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, are starting to pick up steam.
The Maple Leafs try to snap a season-worst five-game losing streak Wednesday night when they host the Lightning, who continue to play without captain Vincent Lecavalier
After allowing an average of just 2.5 goals in opening 15-9-0, Toronto (15-12-2) has surrendered a combined 20 during an 0-3-2 skid. While Joffrey Lupul scored twice in his first game back since missing 25 due to a forearm injury, the Maple Leafs came up short again Saturday in a 5-4 shootout loss to Winnipeg.
“I think we just have to take responsibility and look at ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘This can’t be happening to this hockey club,’” said coach Randy Carlyle, whose team erased a three-goal deficit to send the game into overtime.
“We hit three posts in the shootout, that’s just the way it’s going right now. The positive we have to take out of it is we again found a way to get a point, move on and get ourselves ready.”
While Toronto took all four matchups from the Lightning (13-15-1) last season, it suffered a 4-2 road defeat Feb. 19. Lecavalier, who opened the scoring that night, has 40 points over his last 30 games in the series but will miss his fourth straight contest due to a lower-body injury.
Following a 4-13-1 stretch, Tampa Bay is coming off its third win in four games, 4-2 over Philadelphia on Monday. Anders Lindback made 28 saves as the Lightning improved to 12-1-0 when leading after the first period.
“That’s a big win. Every game - we need to get points right now,” said Steven Stamkos who scored his NHL-leading 21st goal on an empty-netter and added an assist. “That’s the way we have to play if we want to be successful here down the stretch.”
At 23 years, 41 days, Stamkos became the fourth-youngest player to reach 200 goals. He trails only Wayne Gretzky (21 years, 256 days), Mario Lemieux (22 years, 148 days) and Dale Hawerchuk (22 years, 266 days).
“I don’t think it’s a huge milestone, but that’s something nice,” he said. “It wasn’t a highlight reel goal by any means. Obviously I want to keep producing, helping the team win.”
Stamkos has 23 points in the last 17 games and Martin St. Louis has 14 over a 10-game stretch. Although the Lightning sit outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, Carlyle knows better than to take them lightly, especially with his goaltenders struggling.
“There’s a hockey club that, when you have a Stamkos and you have a St. Louis … they’re a hockey club that is trying to find their way,” Carlyle said. “They got a big win (Monday) night, so they’re going to be coming in on a high.”
Toronto’s James Reimer stopped all seven shots after replacing an ineffective Ben Scrivens to start the third period Saturday. Reimer, though, has allowed four goals in three straight and four of his last five starts. Scrivens is 0-3-0 with a 3.97 goals-against average over his last five games.
“We’d like for somebody to show us that they’re going to grab the net,” Carlyle said.
The Maple Leafs are hoping to get a boost from former first-round pick Jake Gardiner who was called up for the second time Tuesday. The defenseman recorded 30 points as a rookie last season.