There’s little room for error as Tampa Bay tries to complete its one-improbable task of playoff qualification.
As such, all your favorite cliches are being trotted out in advance of tonight’s (admittedly) huge tilt against the Maple Leafs.
“It’s huge, it’s Game 7 again,” Victor Hedman said, per the Times. “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.”
Since falling to 22-24-6 with a loss to Ottawa on Feb. 3, the Lightning have caught fire. They’re 12-2-3 since, and have vaulted back into playoff contention — right alongside Toronto.
The Leafs head into tonight with 76 points to Tampa Bay’s 77, but have a game in hand. Both teams are behind the Islanders, who currently hold the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot because of the ROW tiebreaker.
The teams couldn’t be going in different directions, however. The Bolts are surging, and the Leafs are limping — which includes Tuesday’s embarrassing 7-2 loss to the Panthers.
Toronto, like Tampa, is cognizant of the importance surrounding tonight’s game. Nazem Kadri called it a playoff game, and even head coach Mike Babcock — not one to indulge in hyperbole — admitted this was a big one.
“If you want to be in the playoffs, this is an opportunity,” Babcock said, per the Toronto Sun. “You set yourself up all season so you can have games like this down the stretch. It would be unbelievable for the development of our team.
“To do that, you have to do it at crunch time of the year and you’ve got to handle the opportunity and deliver.”
Tonight’s game will be the third of four meetings between the two this year. Tampa Bay whipped Toronto in the first, 7-3, but the Leafs earned a measure of revenge with a 3-2 OT win back on Dec. 29.
This evening’s tilt will also mark Brian Boyle‘s return to Amalie Arena, after he was flipped to the Leafs at the trade deadline.