NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Tuesday, January 3rd (All times Eastern)
Tampa Bay Lightning (17-17-3) at Toronto Maple Leafs (18-15-5), 7 p.m.
(Sports Network) - Tampa Bay assistant captain Martin St. Louis is hoping that his club's perfect three-game homestand does more than get the Lightning back to .500.
One of the more disappointing clubs at the onset of the season, the Lightning look to win for the sixth time in eight games this evening and extend the recent struggles of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After coming within one game of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals a season ago, Tampa Bay is currently 12th overall in the Eastern Conference and sits 10 points behind first-place Florida in the Southeast Division. Points in six of their last seven games has boosted the Lightning's confidence, however, and pushed their record to 17-17-3.
"There's a lot of teams ahead of us and the only way to catch them is to keep winning," said Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, who leads the NHL with 26 goals.
Stamkos collected the fifth hat trick of his career on Saturday as Tampa Bay finished up its residency with a 5-2 win over Carolina. The 21-year-old has six goals over his past three games and 10 in his last eight contests.
St. Louis logged three assists in Saturday's win, with his helper on Stamkos' third goal and game-winner the 500th of his career. Steve Downie scored and had two assists, while Ryan Malone also set up three goals.
"I think as a team, this three-game homestand was a big stepping stone for what we need to be doing here," said St. Louis, who has a goal and seven assists over his past five games. "We knew how important it was and obviously you get three wins and get back to .500 and get yourself back in the chase."
Tampa Bay will try to keep its momentum going on the road, where it has lost seven of its last nine and will play the first of three straight as the guest. One team the Lightning are trying to catch is the Maple Leafs, who sit 10th in the East with 41 points thanks to losses in eight of their last 11 games. Toronto has also dropped eight points back of Boston for first place in the Northeast Division.
The Leafs wrapped a 1-2-1 road trip on Saturday with a 3-2 loss to the Jets. Phil Kessel scored his 21st goal of the season, tied for fourth in the league.
Clarke MacArthur also tallied and James Reimer made 32 saves for Toronto, which will play four straight and nine of its next 10 at home.
"We've dug ourselves a hole that we have to get out of," said Kessel. "We have the tools on this team to do it, we just have to find our game again."
Kessel has logged a pair of goals and five points over a five-game point streak, while MacArthur had two goals and six points over his own five-game run.
The Maple Leafs snapped a four-game slide to the Lightning with a 7-1 win at Tampa Bay on Nov. 22. Six different players lit the lamp for Toronto, led by a pair of goals from Tyler Bozak.
Tampa is 5-0-1 in its last six at Toronto and could have center Nate Thompson back in the lineup as soon as tonight's game. Thompson has missed the past five games with a lower-body injury, but practiced on Monday without setback.
01/03 10:50:10 ET