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Lightning vs. Maple Leafs Pick – NHL March 20th

After another big underdog winner on a featured selection, it’s four-in-a-row for us here at The Sports Geek.  The Senators staged a big comeback victory, vaulting our record to 27-13 with the featured picks thus far in 2013.  Tonight, we’re hoping for success once again in a pivotal clash between the Tampa Bay Lightning and struggling Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tampa Bay Lightning (+125) @ Toronto Maple Leafs (-145)

Why anyone would lay -145 with one of the coldest teams in hockey right now is beyond me.  The Leafs, much like last season, are seemingly on the verge of once again collapsing when the games matter the most.  Though they are the second-youngest team in the league, their play of late has fans and media pundits alike simply baffled.  Their team defense has been porous of late, and both Ben Scrivens and James Reimer haven’t replicated their early season success.

When the pressure hits in Toronto, it truly hits.  Much like the Yankees in New York, or the Cowboys in Dallas, when this team is struggling, it becomes unavoidable.  Toronto’s latest swoon has to have some of the players worried and expect this fragile group’s play to suffer as a result.  The Leafs do have talent, but as has been the case in previous outings, it does not always show up when the going gets tough.  Entering tonight’s pivotal clash, Toronto has made some personnel moves, demoting Korbinian Holzer and re-calling rookie revelation, Jake Gardiner.  While many will expect Gardiner to be the saviour of his team’s recent five-game losing streak, that’s too much to expect from a young kid.  The Leafs defense will be better with him in the line-up, but after seeing how they’ve fared in recent games, a talented Lightning group should be licking their chops.

Tampa Bay started out their 2013 campaign exceptionally well before going on quite the tailspin.  As a result, they’re now out of the playoffs but are desperately seeking to claw back in.  Though they’ve been without Ryan Malone, and Vincent Lecavalier in their recent games, this team has started to play much better.  Entering tonight’s game against the Leafs, the Bolts sit only five points out of the play-offs and just seven from their division-lead.  General Manager Steve Yzerman is standing by his team, and now that their goaltending seems healthy and is playing better, perhaps the Lightning are on the verge of meeting expectations.

Look for a nervy performance from a Leafs team that tends to crumble in crucial games at home.  The Air Canada Centre faithful won’t hesitate to jeer a poor showing, and look for an opportunistic Lightning squad to take full advantage of this.  Steven Stamkos is one of the game’s true superstars and always dominates when he comes home to Toronto.  Expect the Stamkos and Marty St. Louis duo to be in fine form Wednesday night, and they should be able to expose the porous play of the Leafs in their own zone.  At a generous underdog price, consider the Lightning over the Buds.

PICK = Tampa Bay (+125)