Starting with tonight's road tilt, the Bolts will play three straight road games against teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings with an opportunity to gain points while keeping them from those they are trying to catch.
That makes this road trip — like the three-game homestand that came just before it — full of must-win games, starting tonight in Toronto.
The Maple Leafs are currently 7th in the East with 32 points; the Bolts (27 points) can narrow the gap and close in on a playoff spot with a win tonight.
They will have to try to do with without captain Vincent Lecavalier, who is still rehabbing a bone injury to his foot that sounds more and more like a stress fracture the more that's revealed. He may miss up to three weeks total and did not travel with the team to Canada.
As for the injured Bolts, Ryan Malone is out with a shoulder injury, so expect Pierre-Cedric Labrie to be inserted into the lineup if head coach Guy Boucher wants a forward. He also has the option to insert Brian Lee or Marc-Andre Bergeron into the lineup if he wants to go with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen, which he's done in the past, but the Bolts have been successful as of late with a traditional 12-6 alignment and I doubt Boucher wants to mess with what little success Tampa Bay has managed.
For what it's worth, Boucher also noted that Labrie makes Tampa Bay "tougher to play against" particularly on the road.
Toronto is 2nd in the NHL in penalty minutes with 447, and first in major penalties (31) and fights per game (1.00).
For those reasons I'd guess the pugilistic Labrie might see action tonight and drop the gloves with Toronto enforcers Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren.
Victor Hedman, who also sustained an injury on Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers, appears to be OK to play tonight.
Hedman skating and moving fine, so I'd say he'll play tonight, Pouliot skating as well but still in red no-contact jersey
— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) March 20, 2013
For all the injury concerns the Bolts have been dealing with, the one to Hedman concerned me the most. He plays the toughest minutes on the team against the best competition and manages to keep his head above water. Scoring from Pouliot and Lecavalier can be replaced by committee and by the strong play of the AHL call-ups like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. But as good as Radko Gudas has been, there isn't a defenseman in the organization right now that handle the tough assignments Hedman gets every night.
Despite the strong play from young netminder Anders Lindback, the Lightning will go to Mathieu Garon in goal tonight. Garon will look for his first win this season against a team not named the Carolina Hurricanes.
Lightning staying true to word of not overworking Lindback as Garon first off ice at morning skate appears the starter tonight vs Leafs
— Damian Cristodero (@LightningTimes) March 20, 2013
James Reimer will start in net for the Leafs, who are winless in five straight.
The puck drops at 7:00 PM EST.
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