(SportsNetwork.com) - A crucial battle in the Eastern Conference playoff race is on tap Wednesday at Air Canada Centre, as the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Tampa Bay Lighting in an Atlantic Division showdown.
Tampa Bay currently holds the last of the Atlantic's three automatic bids to the playoffs, but the Maple Leafs are just one point behind. Toronto is also in postseason position at the moment, occupying the first of the East's two wild card berths.
After winning the final three tests of a six-game homestand, the Lightning hope to carry some momentum on the road for tonight's important clash. So far in 2013-14, however, Tampa Bay has come up empty against the Maple Leafs.
Toronto is 2-0 against the Lightning this season and has won three of four and seven of the past nine meetings in this series. Tampa Bay also has lost four in a row at Air Canada Centre.
The Bolts dropped a 3-2 regulation decision in Toronto on Jan. 28 and were handed a 4-1 setback at home on Feb. 6. The clubs are set to meet once more in the regular season when the Leafs visit Tampa Bay Times Forum on April 8.
The Lightning began their recent homestand with three straight losses before beating Florida, New Jersey and Vancouver to post a solid 3-1-2 mark during the stay in Central Florida.
The brief surge has seen Tampa Bay log at least a point in five straight games and the Bolts would like to make it six-game point streak with another win on Wednesday.
"We've got points in five straight games at a time when we really need them," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper remarked. "Hopefully this is good momentum for us going on the road."
Tampa Bay is kicking off a three-game road trip on Wednesday and also will visit Ottawa and Pittsburgh during the swing. The Lighting are 17-16-2 as the visiting team this season.
The Lightning were last in action on Monday when they notched a 4-3 regulation win over the Canucks.
Ondrej Palat continued his five-game point streak with a goal and an assist to help Tampa down Vancouver. Palat, a 22-year-old Czech winger, has four goals and five assists during the run and has been a pleasant surprise for the Bolts this season, posting 18 goals and 46 points through 68 games.
Steven Stamkos also registered a goal and an assist in the Lightning's third straight victory. Valtteri Filppula and Tom Pyatt also scored while goaltender Ben Bishop made 25 stops in the win.
Bishop expects to start tonight for Tampa, but the former Ottawa Senator is just 2-4-0 with a 3.05 goals against average and .884 save percentage in seven career games against Toronto.
Toronto has struggled of late, losing two straight and three of its last four games. The Leafs hope to get back on track Wednesday when they play the first test of a two-game homestand. The residency also includes Saturday's important divisional tilt against the rival Canadiens.
The Maple Leafs are 22-11-1 as the home team this season compared to a 14-15-7 mark on the road.
Toronto wrapped a five-game road trip on Tuesday with a 3-2 regulation loss in Detroit. Gustav Nyquist scored a pair of goals to lead the Red Wings to the close victory at Joe Louis Arena.
Jake Gardiner and James van Riemsdyk had one goal apiece for the Maple Leafs, while James Reimer allowed all three goals on 31 shots.
"It was average. There was some good and bad throughout the five games," Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri said of the team's five-game road trip.
Jonathan Bernier sat out his second straight game with a strained groin and the club's No. 1 goaltender is considered day-to-day. Reimer could get the start on back-to-back nights and is 2-3-0 with a 2.94 GAA in five career games against Tampa Bay.
Drew MacIntyre, who has been serving as the backup with Bernier sidelined, has not seen action in an NHL game since making two appearances with Buffalo during the 2011-12 season.