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Maple Leafs can clinch playoff spot vs. rival Lightning Wednesday


The Toronto Maple Leafs will have another chance to lock up their playoff spot against a familiar foe on Wednesday as they host the Tampa Bay Lightning

The Maple Leafs, who have reached the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons, have met the Lightning in the first round the past two years. In 2021, the Lightning eliminated the Leafs in Game 7, while the Toronto advanced in a six-game series last year for their first playoff series win since 2004. 

The Maple Leafs need a single point Wednesday to lock up their spot. The team defeated the Florida Panthers Monday to give themselves a chance to clinch, but did not receive the help they needed from other teams outside the playoff picture.

Toronto is 2-0 against the Lightning this season, with both games going to overtime as the teams met in October and November. The Maple Leafs will also visit Tampa Bay in their final game of the season on April 17. 

Having sat third in the Atlantic Division for most of the season, the Maple Leafs are within striking distance of second place – and home-ice advantage in the first round – entering play Wednesday. 

With the Panthers falling to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, Toronto is four points back of Florida with two games in hand. The Panthers hold the tiebreaker advantage with 38 regulation wins this season to Toronto's 31. The two teams will meet for the final time this season on April 16, a matchup that could prove crucial to playoff seeding.

The Boston Bruins are four points ahead of the Panthers as they look to clinch the division's top seed for the second straight year. 

The Lightning enter Wednesday's game sitting in the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, six points back of Toronto with the two teams equal in games played at 74. The Lightning are closing on a seventh straight playoff berth, with a seven-point cushion on the Detroit Red Wings, who are currently outside the playoff picture. 

The Bruins, the New York Rangers, Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes have already clinched their playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.