The Toronto Maple Leafs return home to the Air Canada Centre tonight after a relatively successful four-game road trip where they went 2-1-1. The team managed to scratch and claw their way past the Montreal Canadiens and into third spot in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division. They will now have the pleasure of inviting in the very team they currently sit below in the standings with the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning.
Some may say that the Leafs shouldn’t have any problem knocking off the Lightning, especially on home ice. After all, the Buds have already beaten division rivals in the Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins. Not to mention the fact that the Lightning are a “warm weather” team. How solid could they really be?
The reality is Steve Yzerman, the general manager for the Lightning, has constructed an unbelievably well-balanced hockey club that has the ability to beat any team in the NHL on any given night. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as Yzerman has been entrusted by the Canadian hockey faithful with the responsibility of putting together their pressure packed Olympic hockey team for the Sochi Olympics.
The Lightning have players that match up well with the three-headed monster that seems to be carrying the Leafs whenever they successfully add two points to their tally in the standings. Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk will have their hands full when they are matched up with the Lightning’s current top line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and the always pesky Martin St. Louis. Along with these three talented individuals, one can’t shy away from the play of Valtteri Filppula, a solid second line center who was regretfully snubbed by the Red Wings and found himself happily landing in Tampa Bay. He has been a breath of fresh air for the Lightning since the coveted Steven Stamkos has been sidelined due to injury. The members of the front office in the Motor City are surely kicking themselves now that they have to come to terms with the fact that their former player is racking up points on what seems to be a nightly basis down in Tampa.
With a valuable two points available inside the ACC tonight in Toronto, the Leafs will undoubtedly have their hands full with a talented and high flying Lightning team. Although they are in third place in the Atlantic Division, their current cushion is very tight. The Canadiens and Red Wings are right behind them with games in hand. These two points are a must for the Leafs, but along with them being extremely important they are also going to be very tough to come by against a team that is currently showing no signs of slowing down before the Olympic break.