Lightning hope to end struggles with season sweep of Leafs

8:56 AM, Mar 14, 2011   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - The struggling Tampa Bay Lightning will try for just their second win of the month when they visit the playoff-hungry Toronto Maple Leafs for tonight's battle at Air Canada Centre.

The Lightning have lost six of seven games in March, posting a 1-4-2 record over that span. As a result, Tampa Bay has fallen out of first place in the Southeast Division and is currently five points behind Washington for that distinction.

The Bolts are also fifth in the East with 85 points, leaving them three behind Pittsburgh and two in front of Montreal in the conference standings.

Toronto, meanwhile, is trying to end a string of five straight seasons without a playoff appearance. The Maple Leafs, who last qualified for the postseason in 2004, are tied for 10th in the East and are six points behind Buffalo and the New York Rangers for the conference's final two postseason berths.

The Maple Leafs earned a key regulation win over the Sabres on Saturday, as Phil Kessel and Mikhail Grabovski scored third-period goals to lift Toronto to the 4-3 comeback victory at Air Canada Centre.

Toronto trailed 3-2 heading into the third period before Grabovski scored his 27th goal of the year at 4:03 of the stanza. Kessel notched his 28th marker of the season just 2:33 later to give Toronto the 4-3 decision.

"We've been through a lot all season and you have your ups and downs but you can't give up," Toronto head coach Ron Wilson said. "I'm very proud of the team not to cave in."

Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur also lit the lamp for the Maple Leafs, while James Reimer made 39 saves. Reimer is 13-6-4 as a rookie this season and is expected to get the start tonight.

The Lightning, meanwhile, enter tonight on a two-game slide, but they hope they can continue their success against the Maple Leafs. Tampa Bay has won all three encounters between the clubs in 2010-11 and can complete the sweep tonight.

Tampa has won four of five and nine of the last 12 games in this series overall and the Bolts have also claimed four of the last five encounters in Toronto.

The Lightning were able to get a point in their most recent setback, as they dropped an overtime decision Saturday against the Florida Panthers. Jason Garrison's goal with 16 seconds left in overtime gave the host Panthers the 4-3 win.

Following a stymied odd-man advantage for Tampa Bay, led by one of the NHL's best scorers, Steven Stamkos, the Panthers rushed down the other end for a 2- on-1 charge. Mike Santorelli crossed a pass to Garrison, who backhanded it under Mike Smith's glove.

Simon Gagne had a goal and two assists for the Lightning, while Vincent Lecavalier and Stamkos added a goal and an assist apiece.

Smith surrendered all four goals on 27 shots in the losing cause.

"We fought hard from shift one to the end of the game," Smith said. "For me, I should have made a save here or there and it's a win under our belt."

Dwayne Roloson is expected to get the start in net tonight. He is 2-0 against the Maple Leafs this season and has stopped 55-of-56 shots against Toronto this season. Roloson backstopped a 2-1 win over Toronto for the New York Islanders back on Oct. 18 and helped Tampa shut out the Leafs on Jan. 25.

Tampa Bay is playing the second test of a four-game road trip today. The Lightning have lost three straight as the guest and are 16-13-4 as the visiting club this year.

Toronto is 16-13-7 as the host this season and is completing a three-game homestand tonight.

The Sports Network

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