The Toronto Maple Leafs officially have secured their first playoff berth in nine years, but that doesn’t mean they’ll coast through the final three regular-season games.
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper hopes his eliminated team won’t do so, either.
Toronto looks to send host Tampa Bay to a seventh consecutive defeat while winning for the sixth time in the last seven meetings Wednesday night.
The Maple Leafs’ enthusiastic fan base was guaranteed playoff hockey for the first time since 2004 after Saturday’s 4-1 win over Ottawa as James Reimer made a career-high 49 saves.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Reimer, 5-1-1 with a 1.84 goals-against average over his last seven starts. “That’s the hockey where you want to play always as a kid growing up. It’s playoff hockey. Especially for our city, it’s been a little while so I know they’re anxious for (the playoffs). It’s good to finally clinch.”
Toronto (25-15-5) visits Florida on Thursday before hosting Montreal on Saturday in a possible first-round playoff preview to end the regular season.
“This is the time of year you have to peak at the right time,” van Riemsdyk said. “(Clinching a postseason spot) doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to be playing well going into the playoffs and we’re going to try to get better with each game that we have here.”
Van Riemsdyk scored in a 4-2 loss at Tampa on Feb. 19, then Kadri finished with three assists in a 4-2 home win March 20. The Leafs have outscored Tampa Bay 26-13 while winning five of the last six meetings as Phil Kessel has totaled six points.
While Kessel has six goals and seven assists in his last seven games, Joffrey Lupul has 10 goals in 10 games since returning from a broken forearm and scored for the second consecutive game Saturday. Lupul has a goal in three straight versus the Lightning and an eight-game point streak against them.
Tampa Bay (17-24-4) is seemingly looking forward to the end of a difficult season. The Lightning have lost six straight after falling 3-2 to lowly Carolina on Sunday, when they fell behind by three goals in the first period before Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis scored.
Tampa has given up the first goal in each of its last seven.
“We’ve got to figure it out for the upcoming three games,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We always battle back hard from being down in games, but we would rather be up a few goals in the first instead of behind.”
Cooper, 4-6-3 since taking over for the fired Guy Boucher on March 26, isn’t sugarcoating the team’s situation but made clear the Lightning still have plenty to play for.
“Is it human nature to look and see our last game is Saturday? Yeah,” Cooper said. “It’s probably a little deflating for some of these guys to know we’re out of it, but for me it’s pride. I want to see who’s got that fire in the belly. Guys are playing for jobs next year. We want to see, regardless of where you are in the standings, who’s going to bring it every night.”
Anders Lindback made 25 saves Sunday in his return after missing a month with an ankle injury suffered in the last month’s meeting with Toronto. It’s unclear if he or Ben Bishop 1-4-1 with a 3.61 GAA over his last seven starts, will get the nod Wednesday.
Reimer has stopped 60 of 63 shots while winning his last two starts versus the Lightning.