Chasing Leafs, Lightning face rival in pivotal showdown

The Tampa Bay Lightning have a chance to move closer to third place in the Atlantic Division when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.

The Lightning took a step back Monday night in a 4-2 home loss to the Detroit Red Wings to end a nine-game points streak.

The Maple Leafs solidified their hold on third with a 6-4 home victory Monday over the Florida Panthers.

The Maple Leafs (43-22-9, 95 points) moved to within four points of the second-place Panthers and stretched their lead to six over the Lightning.

Auston Matthews scored twice on Monday, including the clincher into an empty net, and has a career-best and 62 goals to lead the league.

The Lightning and Maple Leafs meet again April 17 in the regular-season finale for both teams in Tampa, Fla. Toronto has won the first two matchups.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper kept the loss on Monday in perspective.

“Listen, we haven’t lost in regulation since the first week of March, and we’re in April,” Cooper said. “So we’ve asked a lot from the guys and they delivered.

“At some point, we were going to lose a game in regulation. We weren’t going to run the table. Unfortunately, it’s a team that’s chasing us.”

The Lightning (41-26-7, 89 points) sit in the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card position by seven points over the Washington Capitals and Red Wings entering Tuesday.

“You can’t sit here and be hard on the guys,” Cooper said. “They’ve played really well for us and they played well in spurts (Monday). Just, the mind checked out a couple of times and we got burned for it.”

Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov had an assist Monday to give him 127 points (42 goals, 85 assists) this season, tying Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche for the NHL scoring lead.

The Maple Leafs had a 5-1 lead over the Panthers entering the third, but the Panthers scored three consecutive goals and saw a potential game-tying goal hit the goal post before Matthews’ empty-netter.

“We lost our energy,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I don’t like it. But it’s hard for me to put myself in their shoes, up four goals in Game 74, headed to Game 75. So, we did enough good things through two periods to bail us out.”

Allowing leads to slip away has been a recurring problem for the Maple Leafs, but they seemed pleased with their third consecutive win.

“It was a really good challenge for us, and I thought we met it really well,” Matthews said.

Matthews had his 17th multi-goal game of the season, the most in one season by any player in the past 30 years.

“We were engaged in the game,” said Matthew Knies, who had a goal and an assist.

Goaltender Ilya Samsonov was clutch for the Leafs, pulling off some superb saves.

“I think it’s interesting for fans, got some nerves for everybody all the time, but it’s most important we mix in two points right now and we win this game,” Samsonov said. “Doesn’t matter what’s going on. That’s a tough game against a good team.”

The Maple Leafs could have star forward Mitchell Marner (ankle) back by the weekend, and top defenseman Morgan Rielly (upper body) is scheduled to play Wednesday.