Final OT

Series (Game 1 of 4)

Series tied 2-2

Game 1: Tuesday, November 3rd
Maple Leafs1
Game 2: Wednesday, November 25th
Maple Leafs4Final
Game 3: Thursday, January 21st
Maple Leafs2Final
Game 4: Thursday, March 11th
Maple Leafs4

Lightning 2

(5-4-4, 14 pts)

Maple Leafs 1

(1-7-5, 7 pts)

7:30 PM ET, November 3, 2009

Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

1 2 3 OT T
TB 0 1 0 12
TOR 0 0 1 01

A. Niittymaki (Lightning - G): Saves: 40, Save Pct.: .976

J. Gustavsson (Maple Leafs - G): Saves: 30, Save Pct.: .938

P. Kessel (Maple Leafs - RW): Goals: 0, Assists: 0

Lightning-Maple Leafs Preview


Phil Kessel's return to the ice can't come soon enough for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The 22-year-old star could make his much-anticipated Toronto debut earlier than expected Tuesday night when the struggling Maple Leafs host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It's been more than five months since Kessel saw NHL action and two since Toronto (1-7-4) acquired him by sending a pair of first-round picks and a second-rounder to Boston in September. Though it seemed Kessel's recovery from offseason shoulder surgery would keep him out until around Thanksgiving, he could be ready as early as Tuesday.

According to the Maple Leafs' official Web site, Kessel skated again Monday, and if cleared by doctors he could return to the ice for the first time since finishing with a career highs of 36 goals and 24 assists last season.

"I'm pretty excited," Kessel told the team's official Web site. "Six months is a long time."

The Maple Leafs, whose six points are the fewest in the NHL, could certainly use Kessel as they try to find a spark. Toronto is averaging 2.5 goals per contest, and at 0-4-1 is the only team without a home win.

Kessel, though, hopes the Maple Leaf fan base won't expect him to be the savior for a struggling franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2003-04. He signed a five-year, $27 million deal with the Maple Leafs after totaling 66 goals in three seasons with the Bruins.

"They have to temper their expectations," said Kessel, who has six goals and four assists in 11 career games against Tampa Bay. "I'm going to do what ever I can to help the team win."

Though Toronto is looking to end a three-game losing streak, it's earned at least one point in four straight contests. That still won't satisfy coach Ron Wilson after the Maple Leafs lost 5-4 in a shootout at Montreal on Saturday to conclude a 1-1-3 road trip.

"I could throw out all the cliches, but we still have to find a way to win," Wilson said. "Which cliche do you want? We never say die, blah, blah blah? We still need to win."

Their inability to win hasn't been because of the effort from defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who had a goal and three assists against the Canadiens. Kaberle, the team leader with 17 points, had two goals and 11 assists on the five-game trip.

After missing five games with a knee injury, Toronto's Vesa Toskala made 35 saves Saturday to fall to 0-2-2 with a 5.13 goals-against average. Toskala is 2-2-1 with a 2.65 GAA against Tampa Bay, but he could give way to Jonas Gustavsson, who's 1-2-2 with a 3.22 GAA this season.

Though Toronto went 1-3-0 and dropped both home games against Tampa Bay last season, the Lightning (4-4-4) are 0-4-1 on the road after falling 6-2 at Philadelphia on Monday.

Steven Stamkos and Jeff Halpern scored for Tampa Bay, which has been outscored 25-8 on the road.

"I'm not saying that we're letting this slide, but I think the guys in this room are more than capable of handling it," Halpern said.

After scoring 23 goals as a rookie last season, Stamkos is among the league leaders with 11 through the first month of play. He has two goals and two assists versus the Maple Leafs.

Mike Smith fell to 2-3-3 with a 3.64 GAA after allowing five goals on 18 shots Monday. Though Smith is 2-0-0 with a 1.97 GAA against Toronto, backup Antero Niittymaki could be in net Tuesday after giving up a goal on 13 shots in relief Monday.

Niittymaki is 2-1-1 with a 2.17 GAA on the season, but he's 1-3-0 with a 2.54 GAA versus Toronto.