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Maple Leafs prepare for tough conference game with Tampa Bay

There isn't a team in the NHL that boasts a more electric duo than the Tampa Bay Lightning, who skate into the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night. Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are second and third in league scoring and have singlehandedly helped their team to victory on more than a few nights this season.

Leafs coach Paul Maurice spent several years in the Southeast Division when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes and is very familiar with the pair. He knows all about the danger they pose.

"Their work ethic is really good," Maurice said Monday. "You don't see that a lot with completely high-end players. They just compete very, very hard.

"I think it's why they won their Cup (in 2004) and I think that's why they're always dangerous to play against."

Lightning coach John Tortorella is known for mixing and matching his forward lines, but one constant throughout is having Lecavalier and St. Louis skate on the same unit.

Flash and dash. No. 4 and No. 26.

Lecavalier is on the verge of his first 50-goal season. He currently leads the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy with 46.

St. Louis won the scoring title in 2004 with a career-high 94 points and should shatter that mark this year. He's got 92 heading into Tuesday's game against the Leafs.

"They're superstars," said Lightning teammate Andreas Karlsson. "It's fun watching them go."

The Maple Leafs have been getting it done by committee.

Captain Mats Sundin again leads the team in scoring but has gone seven games without a goal. It's not for a lack of chances - he had 11 shots in Toronto's 4-3 comeback win over Ottawa on Saturday night.

"I felt great last game," said Sundin. "Scoring goals, you know how that works. Sometimes they come in bunches, sometimes they don't go in.

"I'm not worried."

Neither is Maurice.

He's pleased to look at the stats sheet and see four 20-goal scorers - Sundin (26), Darcy Tucker (22), Jeff O'Neill (20) and Yanic Perreault (20).

Those players often skate on different lines so it gives Toronto some scoring punch from top to bottom. Maurice also believe it's been key in keeping Toronto in the playoff race despite losing 297 man games to injury this season.

"We've gotten offence right through (our lineup)," said Maurice. "That's why we survived.

"Pretty much everyone in our lineup has put numbers up."

The Maple Leafs have beaten Tampa Bay in all three meetings so far this year.

But with the playoff crunch now truly on, you can pretty much throw those kind of stats out the window. It's a game to game battle now.

For Toronto, that means trying to build on Saturday's win. The Leafs scored twice in the third period to erase a 3-1 deficit before Tucker scored the winner in overtime.

"You like to think when you get a big victory like that, that you can carry the momentum over," said Tucker. "But we have to be sharp. We can't sit back here.

"All these other teams are jockeying for position."

The Eastern Conference standings change daily, but that doesn't mean anything really changes for the Maple Leafs. They need more victories than losses over the final 13 games.

"We're going to need to keep winning hockey games," said Sundin. "You look at the next couple weeks, we're going to play some top teams.

"And the other teams are right around us in the standings."

Tampa Bay has more breathing room but still hopes to fend off Atlanta and win the Southeast Division. Those teams were tied for first heading into Monday's games.

No team in the league has an excuse for not showing up every night now.

"This is the hardest part of the season," said Leafs forward Kyle Wellwood.

It's also the most fun.

Toronto is on the outside of the playoff picture heading into a tough game with the Lightning, but the players still seem confident. Just being in the thick of it after a season of adversity has created an aura of resilience in the locker-room.

That makes big a game against two of the league's elite players less daunting.

"We've been knocked down many times this year," said Sundin. "We kept saying that whatever team keeps bouncing back up is going to be the one to make it to the playoffs.

"We've shown a lot of character all year. We're going to have to keep doing that."


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