Lightning open a tough streak against the Maple Leafs | Radio WGN 720

At the start of a crucial streak, with the regular season schedule winding down, the Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t starting the week with the greatest momentum.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions begin a tough trio of games with Monday night’s home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is the third of four meetings between the teams this season.

On Wednesday, Tampa Bay (43-18-7, 93 points) will travel up the East Coast to face the Washington Capitals. When Friday rolls around, coach Jon Cooper’s team will be back home to face the Boston Bruins.

Three tough games in five days will come against playoff opponents in the powerhouse Eastern Conference.

“Yeah, they’re three really good teams,” Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli said. “We want to go out and polish our game. … We want to be ready to play and come strong.

Cirelli scored shorthanded Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens, blocking a pass on a run with Nick Paul, who provided a spark with four assists in his last two games after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators.

Despite Cirelli’s goal giving the Lightning a 2-0 lead in the first period, the ill-fated Canadiens cruised to a 5-4 victory thanks to Nick Suzuki’s lone goal in the shootout.

Tampa Bay actually blew a pair of two-goal leads, taking a 3-1 lead at 11:34 of the second period.

“There have been too many reversals, too many odd-mans (rushes) dropped. I mean, that’s a big thing we’re talking about – kind of limiting a team’s chance of a rush. I thought we lost too many tonight,” said Cirelli, who has 15 goals.

The Lightning saw their four-game winning streak shattered.

After Brian Elliott was in goal against Montreal, Andrei Vasilevskiy (35-14-4) should return in goal. His 35 wins lead the NHL.

Tampa Bay and Toronto (44-19-5, 93 points) are battling for second place in the Atlantic Division while chasing the first-place Florida Panthers.

The teams shared two games in Toronto earlier this season. Toronto won 2-1 in overtime on Nov. 4 and the Lightning finished first 5-3 on Dec. 9.

The Maple Leafs enter the game in Tampa on a four-game winning streak following Saturday’s 6-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Success came in the first game of a four-game road trip.

Auston Matthews’ goalscoring exploits have drawn a lot of attention lately. He pocketed the No. 51 goal in Philadelphia, as the club averaged six goals per game after outscoring the opposition 24-12 in the winning streak.

But Saturday’s best news for Toronto came from between the pipes, where Jack Campbell had once again been in charge since the last game on March 8.

Recovering from his rib injury, Campbell stepped in and recorded 29 saves, while improving his record to 25-9-4. He has a 2.66 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.

“I really felt like myself, having fun, competing and playing my game,” Campbell said. “I liked my game and I will continue to build on it.

“Just being healthy is huge. It was really nice to hit a reset button, work on some details and work hard in the gym.

With his assist on John Tavares’ goal in the win, right-winger William Nylander went within two assists of 200 for his career.

–Field level media

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