Maple Leafs-Lightning Preview
Even if injuries derail the Tampa Bay Lightning's chances of winning the Atlantic Division, their main focus is getting as healthy as possible come playoff time.
Ryan Callahan, Valtteri Filppula and Nikita Kucherov could return as soon as Monday night's matchup with the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, but that won't help fill the gaping hole left on the blue line with Anton Stralman out.
Tampa Bay (43-27-5) had won three in a row to move into first place despite Callahan missing that entire stretch with a lower-body injury and Filppula out since suffering an upper-body ailment March 13.
The biggest blows came in Friday's win over the New York Islanders, as Kucherov, whose 62 points are tied with Steven Stamkos for the team lead, took a shot off of his foot and Stralman fractured his left fibula. Kucherov sat out Saturday's 5-2 loss to Florida that dropped it two points back of the Panthers with seven games left.
Stralman is out indefinitely, and it'll likely take a deep playoff run for him to have a chance of returning this season.
''He's such a huge part of our club,'' center Brian Boyle said. ''The way he plays, the way he is here inside the (locker) room. It's a loss, we understand that, but we can't dwell on it. Everybody needs to work to get better, support one another.''
Stamkos and Tyler Johnson scored in the third of a six-game homestand. Tampa's lead for second place and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs was cut to three points after Boston beat the league-worst Maple Leafs 3-1 on Saturday.
The Lightning currently hold the tiebreaker over both Florida and the Bruins with more non-shootout victories.
"We have to understand that (Sunday) is a day off and we can't let it linger," Boyle said. "We have to come out flying Monday. This game is over. What's done is done."
Toronto (27-36-11) plays five of its final eight on the road, including the next three. It has been doing its best to play the role of spoiler, though, and won five of its previous six prior to Saturday's setback.
That stretch included a 4-1 victory over the Lightning on March 15, when rookie Zach Hyman had a goal and an assist. Young players like Hyman and 19-year-old William Nylander are being given a chance to impress coach Mike Babcock as the Maple Leafs focus on the future.
He wasn't happy with how Toronto performed against the Bruins, though.
"We turned the puck over," Babcock said. "When you turn the puck over in the second period and then they keep putting it in and you keep turning it over, they make you look slow."
The Lightning won the first three meetings this season and have won four in a row at home over the Leafs, including when Stamkos scored on the power play in a 1-0 victory Jan. 27.
It's the only point Stamkos has this season against Toronto, which could go with Jonathan Bernier in net in this contest. Bernier, who has a 1.43 goals-against average over his last five outings, allowed that goal, but he's stopped 54 of the 56 shots he's faced in two starts against Tampa Bay on the season.
Ben Bishop hasn't started against the Leafs this season but has beaten them the last two times he's been in goal. He's 10-2-1 with a 1.77 GAA since Feb. 20.