Stamkos, Tavares friendly ri­vals

Boy­hood friends face off as Leafs bat­tle Light­ning

Calgary Herald - - SPORTS - TERRY KOSHAN [email protected]­

TAMPA Both born in 1990, John Tavares and Steven Stamkos go back a long way to when they were com­pet­ing against each other and with each other as kids in the Greater Toronto Area.

The re­spect level on ei­ther side is high, and you can imag­ine there will be a few friendly nods dur­ing the warm-up when Stamkos and his Light­ning team­mates host Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thurs­day.

Once the game starts, the smiles will fade, but the mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion will not.

“Stam­mer is one of the best play­ers of this decade for sure, a tremen­dous goal-scorer, leader and all-around player,” Tavares said.

Here are five things to watch for on Thurs­day:


Thanks, mom

No bet­ter way for the Maple Leafs to give thanks to their moth­ers than with a com­plete, hon­est ef­fort, though we should re­mem­ber that such an ap­proach still might not be enough against a strong Light­ning club. Repli­cate to an ex­tent what hap­pened in Raleigh, N.C., on Tues­day, when the Leafs were sim­ple and ef­fec­tive against a lesser Hur­ri­canes team, and Toronto in­creases its chances of win­ning against the Light­ning. Tampa hasn’t lost since Nov. 27, win­ning seven in a row.


Wing­ing it

Among the sub­plots will be the play of the wingers on each side. Nikita Kucherov leads Tampa in scor­ing with 45 points in 32 games, while Yanni Gourde can make an im­pact. For the Leafs, Wil­liam Ny­lan­der might find space a lit­tle tighter af­ter record­ing his first points of the sea­son, two as­sists against Carolina. And what’s left to say about Mitch Marner? His 35 as­sists con­tinue to trail only Mikko Ran­ta­nen (39) of Colorado. The Light­ning should have plenty of film, as well, on the speed that Kasperi Ka­pa­nen brings.


Even up

The Light­ning (83 goals) and the Leafs (78 goals) are the NHL’s most pro­duc­tive while play­ing five-on­five. Tampa has an NHL-best plus39 goal dif­fer­en­tial, while the Leafs are sec­ond at plus-28.


Bray­den on point

Among the ar­eas the Leafs pride them­selves is the growth of the team’s young­sters, and it’s the same with the Light­ning. Lead­ing the way is 22-year-old Bray­den Point, who is on the way to smash­ing his ca­reer high of 66 points, done as an NHL sopho­more last sea­son. Point has be­come a trust­wor­thy de­fen­sive player and could be tasked with pro­vid­ing a shadow for Aus­ton Matthews. Point is made for to­day’s NHL: not overly big, but quick and smart.


Vasilevskiy back?

An­drei Vasilevskiy could re­turn to the Tampa crease af­ter miss­ing four weeks with a bro­ken foot. The 24-year-old prac­tised on Wednes­day. “We wanted to make sure he got a sweat and to see how he went through it,” Tampa head coach Jon Cooper said Wednes­day. “Looks like he man­aged it pretty well.” Vasilevskiy is 7-4-1 against the Leafs, post­ing a .917 save per­cent­age and a 2.44 goals-against av­er­age.

Bray­den Point

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