Published April 24, 2013
| Sports Network
The Toronto Maple Leafs will hit the ice for the first time since clinching their first playoff appearance in nine years as they continue a three-game road trip on Wednesday night with a contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Maple Leafs ended their longest drought of missing the playoffs in team history on Saturday when a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators clinched their first postseason spot since 2004. James Reimer was outstanding with 49 saves as Toronto moved to 5-2-1 in its past eight.
"When we started in January, our sights were set on trying to qualify for the playoffs," said Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. "It's been a drought for our hockey club. We just refer back to respect. We're trying to earn respect back for our group. That to me is the most important thing. For us to qualify now, it's a feather in the player's caps for all the work they put in."
James van Riemsdyk scored twice, while Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri both added goals. Phil Kessel and Cody Franson notched two assists each. Kessel has six goals and eight assists over his past eight games.
"It's unbelievable," said Reimer. "That's the hockey where you want to play always as a kid growing up. It's playoff hockey. Especially for our city, it's been a little while so I know they're anxious for (the playoffs). They're ready for them. It's good to finally clinch."
With 55 points, the Maple Leafs sit fifth overall in the Eastern Conference. They are four points back of fourth place with three games to play but also hold just a one-point edge over the New York Islanders, who sit in sixth place.
Toronto will also visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday before ending its season at home versus the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
The Lightning sit 14th out of 15 teams in the East and will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six seasons. They aren't showing signs of finishing strong either as they have lost six straight (0-4-2).
Tampa Bay's latest loss came on Sunday, a 3-2 setback to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Lightning gave up all three goals in the first period, the first coming 16 seconds into the game and the third with 1:14 to play in the frame.
"I don't know what it is with us in the first period," Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We always battle back, which is the good part, but we would rather be up a few goals instead of behind."
In his first game since missing the previous 13 with a high ankle sprain, Anders Lindback made 25 saves on 28 shots faced.
Steven Stamkos scored his 28th goal of the season, three back of Alex Ovechkin of Washington for the league lead, while Martin St. Louis had a goal and an assist. He leads the NHL with 42 assists and his 55 points trail only injured Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby for the most in the league.
The Lightning, who haven't lost seven in a row since an 0-6-1 skid from Jan. 3-15, 2012, will visit the Boston Bruins on Thursday and then end their season at home versus the Panthers on Saturday.
The Maple Leafs have won five of their past six versus the Lightning and won for the first time in their past three trips to Tampa on Feb. 19.