NHL Hockey

Playoffs clinched, Lightning seek more at Toronto

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs split their first two meetings this season, both in Tampa.

The venue switches to Toronto on Monday night for the first of two remaining instalments in their regular-season series.

The Lightning defeated the Maple Leafs 4-1 on Dec. 13, but the Maple Leafs won 4-2 on Jan. 17. The final meeting with be both teams' penultimate regular-season game, on April 4 in Toronto.

Both squads have high expectations in the postseason, and the Lightning (52-13-4, 108 points) have already clinched a playoff spot, the first team to do so this season.

They had clinched it before defeating the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 on Saturday to complete a 3-1-0 homestand, thanks to the Montreal Canadiens' regulation-time loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

"We have to make sure we keep pressing forward here, so we don't skip a beat coming into mid-April," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

At 68 games, the Lightning clinched a playoff berth in the second-fewest games since 2005-06, equaling the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks and one behind the 2009-10 Washington Capitals.

Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov scored twice against the Red Wings, giving him a club record 110 points for the season, surpassing Vincent Lecavalier's mark of 108 set in 2006-07.

"Players, their dreams are to play in the NHL," Cooper said. "To come in and be able to set records, he passed an icon in Vinny, and there's no doubt it means something."

"He's a pretty incredible player," Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "At intermission we said, 'Why stop now?' Sure enough, he goes out there and scores another. That's the kind of player he's been all season, always wanting more."

Dan Girardi (lower body ), Anton Stralman (lower body) and Adam Erne (upper body) missed the game Saturday but will travel to Toronto.

The Maple Leafs return home after a 2-0-1 trip that included two shaky third periods. They failed to win for the first time this season when leading after two periods on Wednesday against the Vancouver Canucks, blowing a 2-1 lead and losing 3-2 in overtime. In the 3-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, the Leafs allowed two goals in the final two minutes of the game, as the Oilers pulled their goalie for a sixth attacker.

"I thought we had lots of guys going," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "I thought we controlled the puck, were heavy on the cycle, did lots of really good things. ... Obviously, I'd like to have the last two minutes back. We couldn't figure out where to stand at the end, but that'll do it."

John Tavares scored his 38th goal this season to match his career best and added two assists against the Oilers.

"Other than the last couple of minutes, we played a really good road game," Tavares said. "We didn't get rewarded as much as I think we could have. Everyone was doing a lot of good things out there and making it hard for them to really establish any offense, any momentum, and we generated some chances.

"We did a good job, obviously, getting a three-goal lead that proved to be enough."

Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri was back in the lineup Saturday after he had missed eight games with a concussion. He had an assist.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 10, 2019

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