Maple Leafs-Lightning Preview

Ben Bishop and the Tampa Bay Lightning took a step back last time out after a dominant stretch by the team and its trusty goaltender.

A matchup with the punchless Toronto Maple Leafs could be exactly what both need to bounce back.

While the Lightning attempt to enter the All-Star break with some renewed momentum, the Maple Leafs simply hope to build some when the teams meet Wednesday night.

The Lightning's season-high seven-game winning streak came undone by one bad period Saturday at Florida, where the upstart Panthers increased their lead on their in-state rivals in the Atlantic Division with a 5-2 victory. Four of those goals came during a second period in which Tampa Bay (26-18-4) was outshot by a 19-5 margin.

''We got away (from) what's made us successful the past couple games,'' captain Steven Stamkos said.

After allowing just four goals total in winning his four previous starts, Bishop permitted four on 30 shots before being removed at the second intermission.

The All-Star netminder likely won't see such a barrage from a Maple Leafs team that's scored a mere 11 goals in losing eight of nine, and none in 23 power-play chances over the last eight.

''We have lots of work to do,'' coach Mike Babcock said. ''When you see the really good teams play and you see their talent base, you see where we've got to get to and we all understand that. It's going to be a process. That doesn't make it any easier on game night.''

Toronto (17-21-9) had showed signs of slight progress by earning at least one point in three straight prior to Tuesday's 5-1 defeat at Florida, now seven points ahead of the fourth-place Lightning in the Atlantic. The Maple Leafs were outscored 5-0 over the final two periods in dropping a third straight.

''They got going, we made mistakes and they capitalized,'' Babcock said. ''We had lots of chances, too, but we didn't capitalize. We've seen that before.''

Toronto hasn't recorded a power-play goal since James van Riemsdyk fractured his foot on Jan. 9, though it's lacked production from most of its top healthy forwards of late. Leo Komarov has scored just one of his team-leading 16 goals in the past 15 games, Tyler Bozak has none in 13 straight and P.A. Parenteau has two assists over his last nine.

Nazem Kadri has scored in two straight, however, after registering the game's first goal on Tuesday.

Tampa Bay continues to get consistent offense from Nikita Kucherov, who assisted on Victor Hedman's goal Saturday to extend his point streak to eight games. The 22-year-old has six goals and five assists over that span and 28 points in 22 games since Dec. 5, second only to Patrick Kane's 32 for most in the league during that period.

Hedman has 10 points over his last eight games while remaining a vital part of a penalty kill that's 41 of 45 during a 15-game stretch.

After James Reimer started Tuesday's loss, Jonathan Bernier will get the nod for this one. Bernier owns a 2.57 goals-against average over his past five starts but has lost two straight, coming up with 42 saves in a 3-2 defeat at Boston on Jan. 16 and surrendering seven goals at San Jose a week earlier.

Bernier made 22 saves in Toronto's 5-4 home overtime loss to the Lightning on Dec. 15, in which Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov each posted a goal and an assist.

The Maple Leafs have lost three straight at Tampa Bay and five of the last seven overall in the series.


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