Toronto returns to action tonight after a three day break. They’ll be taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning at home in a game that carries serious playoff implications. You can catch the game at 7:00 pm EST on TSN.
Here are four factors that could stand in the Leafs’ path to victory:
1) Riding a five game losing streak, the Leafs have fallen from the middle of the playoff pack towards the bottom. They lost two critical games against Winnipeg last week and now find divisional rivals Montreal and Ottawa well above them in the Eastern Conference standings. Making matters worse, the Rangers, Devils and Islanders are all nipping at the Leafs’ heels. A win tonight would reverse the losing streak and help give the team some breathing room. Can they do it?
The Leafs earned the full two points and earned some breathing room as well. They have a change to add even more breathing room tonight against the Buffalo Sabres.
2) James Reimer will get the start tonight over Ben Scrivens. The young goaltenders have exchanged relief appearances over the last two games. Reimer brings a 9-4-2 record into the contest, but he hasn’t won in three games. A win tonight would put some of the re-emergent questions about Toronto’s goaltending situation at bay. It would also give Reimer a well needed confidence boost. Is Reimer able to reverse his fortunes – and the team’s fortunes by extension – tonight?
Reimer got the start and turned away 26 shots to earn his tenth win of the season.
3) On Saturday, Joffrey Lupul exploded for two games in his return from injury while Phil Kessel extended his current points streak to four games. Toronto needs these two offensive superstars to produce at optimum levels if they hope to crack the playoffs. Will we see another strong showing from Lupul and Kessel?
Lupul collected a goal and an assist while Kessel earned an assist, too. The real offensive star of the game, however, was Nazem Kadri, who earned three assists on the night. This kid is legitimate.
4) Jake Gardiner makes his return to the Leafs’ lineup tonight after a failed debut earlier this season. A serious concussion in December sidelined Gardiner and kept him in the minors longer than many fans could appreciate. In his first season with the Leafs, Gardiner collected 30 points (7 goals, 23 assists) in 75 games while he has gone pointless in two games this season. How quickly can Gardiner return to the points column?
Gardiner looked good in his return, generating some offensive chances and playing good defence. Along with Mark Fraser, Gardiner gives the Leafs two patient defencemen to help them clear pucks and evade opponents.
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