TAMPA -- Suddenly the road isn’t such a friendly place for the Maple Leafs, though rookie goalie James Reimer will attempt to bring his magic back to the struggling club here on Tuesday night.
The Leafs, who fell 6-4 to Carolina Monday night in Raleigh, N.C., are running on fumes as they will head into their all-star break having played five games in seven nights.
And after a 4-1 road swing earlier in the month, they have lost three in a row away from the Air Canada Centre and on Tuesday night face the dangerous Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We want to go into the break on a high note,” said forward Tim Brent, the fourth-liner who stepped up with a pair of goals in Monday’s loss. “We went into Christmas on a tough three-game losing streak and we don’t want to go into the all-star break like that. After the break, the pressure is really on and we need to be at our best when we come back.”
Also expected back in the lineup is forward Nikolai Kulemin who took a beating Monday night in a two-punch knockout from Tampa’s Tim Gleason. Kulemin has a swollen face but reportedly didn’t suffer any broken bones or other head injuries.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke told the Toronto Sun that the team won’t pursue any further action from the league on Gleason, who was issued a five-minute major and game infraction for the one-sided punchout.
Reimer, who was sent back down to the Marlies when the Leafs had to call up some forward help, gave the team a much needed spark when he got his first shot at NHL play. In his four road wins, the Manitoba native stopped 143 of the 151 shots he faced in the four consecutive road wins from Jan. 1-11. Overall, Reimer had a 4-2 record with the Leafs with a 2.27 goals against average and .933 save percentage.
It will be a tough task on Tuesday night, however. With a weary team in front of him, Reimer will face the NHL’s leading scorer, Steven Stamkos (38 goals, 29 assists.) Tampa already has two wins over the Leafs this season, outscoring them by a combined 8-3 in two games back in November.
The Lightning, who didn’t make the playoffs last season, are a changed team this time around. Winners of their past four games, they enter Tuesday’s play with a 30-15-5, good for a two-point lead over the Washington Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division.
The Leafs will practise on Wednesday in Toronto before heading out on the all-star break. They return to game action next Tuesday at home against Florida.