The Toronto Maple Leafs have no incentive to risk much, and their opponent is much more acclimated to having the cruise-control effect of a team that is locked into its playoff seeding.
The Maple Leafs are the slim -105 home underdog (bet $105 to win $100) on the NHL betting lines for Thursday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com, while the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning are a -115 away favorite, with a 7.0-goal total. Toronto is just 2-4 in its last six home games as it winds down the regular season, while Tampa Bay is 8-3 in its last 11 away games.
Toronto is 1-2 this season against the Lightning, having split the road games in the season series. The last time they met was three weeks ago on March 11, with Tampa Bay winning 6-2 at Scotiabank Arena. Connor Brown and Auston Matthews scored for Toronto.
The Maple Leafs are playing their third game of a season-ending 4-in-6 stretch. Their most recent outing was a 4-1 home loss Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes, one of the teams fighting for a wild-card berth. John Tavares scored his team-most 47th goal as a lone salvo for Toronto.
Replenishing their defensive stock is a higher priority than winning for Toronto. Defenseman Jake Gardiner is expected to play in at least one of the final two regular-season games for conditioning purposes after missing five weeks with a back injury. Accommodating Gardiner would likely mean dressing seven defencemen and taking away from the offensive depth that a team needs to keep up with the Lightning, who are the highest-scoring team in the NHL, with an arsenal that is strong even if Hart Trophy candidate Nikita Kucherov and his league-most 125 points sit this one out.
The high total is probably a better place to focus, since eight of the Leafs’ last 10 home games and eight of the Lightning’s last 10 away games have finished OVER, according to the OddsShark NHL Database.
Frederik Andersen will likely make his final start before the playoffs. The Danish goalie is 6-2-3 with a 3.75 goals-against average and .896 save percentage in his last 12 games amid the Maple Leafs’ team-wide slump. Third-string minor-league call-up Eddie Pasquale started during Tampa Bay’s 4-2 loss against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.
The Maple Leafs are fourth in the NHL in goal scoring, averaging 3.5 goals per game, while the Lightning are first, averaging 3.9. Toronto has the NHL’s seventh-ranked power play (22.1 percent) and 16th-ranked penalty kill (80.2). Tampa Bay has the first-ranked power play (28.2 percent) and third-ranked penalty kill (84.8).
The Maple Leafs, who will meet the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, wrap up the regular season with a road game against the rival Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. With Montreal still alive for a playoff berth, that game could affect who Tampa Bay starts the playoffs against, since the Lightning will face the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card team. In the meantime, Tampa Bay will finish its regular season with a visit to play the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon.
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