Lightning prepare for Leafs showdown: 'It's Game 7 again'
There's no question tonight's Lightning game with the Maple Leafs has plenty of sizzle, and a lot at stake.
Brian Boyle's likely emotional return to Tampa Bay is a storyline, but even he says to keep in perspective how big this game is for the playoff race. The Lightning is tied with the Islanders for the final wild card spot, Toronto one point behind and a game in hand.
"It's huge, it's Game 7 again," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "All the games will be Game 7 attitude for us. We know it'll be a packed building, fans are going to be loud. Really looking forward to it."
The Lightning will still be short-handed, with centers Tyler Johnson, Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette all out with lower-body injuries. Their status for Saturday's game against the Capitals is unknown.
But this will be the first of two remaining head-to-head matchups with the Leafs (the other April 6 in Toronto), which could go a long way in determining who makes the postseason. Tampa Bay is riding a four-game winning streak, on a 12-2-3 run.
But coach Jon Cooper cautions this game is not a be all, end all.
"Is this an extremely important game? Yes," Cooper said. "But there's a lot of hockey left..We need these two. But I always say we got ourselves back in the (playoff) conversation. But if the playoffs started today, we're out, and so are the Leafs."
More from skate: G Andrei Vasilevskiy is starting, having gone 6-0-1 in his last seven starts...Brian Boyle had dinner last night with former Lightning teammates Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ryan Callahan, along with their significant others; Boyle said a reason he wears No. 24 for Toronto is "my buddy Cally" (along with his wife's birthday). But Stamkos made it a point Thursday morning to tell Leafs coach Mike Babcock how good a teammate Boyle is. "We hope he rubs off," Babcock said. Said Cooper: "I can't say enough about Brian Boyle. He's a phenomenal human being. If I needed a young kid to be mentored, I went to Boyle.". The other reunion tonight involves Lightning center Byron Froese, who was acquired from Toronto in the Boyle trade. Froese makes his home debut for Tampa Bay, saying it'll be exciting to face his former team. "You want to go out and prove yourself to a new team and ultimately the old team," Froese said. "I'm very thankful for that opportunity they gave me the past two years." Cooper has liked what he's seen from Froese: "He's been good, he's a responsible player," Cooper said. "He's done everything we've asked. He's jumped right in, won some big draws for us, had some pretty good chances to score. He's been a pleasant surprise and a good pickup.".. D Jake Dotchin, who got injured late in Tuesday's game, was back at the skate this morning and feels fine... The lines look like this: Palat-Point-Kucherov/Gourde-Drouin-Killorn/Dumont-McKegg-Brown/Erne-Froese-Witkowski. The Lightning could go 11/7 tonight..