MAPLE LEAFS (26-20-11) at HURRICANES (24-22-8)
7:00 pm (SNO)
After dropping two consecutive games highlighted by a disappointing loss to the rival Senators, the Leafs prepare to take on the Hurricanes in what is now a salvage expedition of their back to back weekend games.
The Leafs appeared to arrive about 30 minutes late in the 6-3 loss on Saturday. The contest afforded the Leafs a valuable opportunity to jump within one point of second place in the Atlantic division. Instead, they head to North Carolina, on the outside looking in on the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. The Florida Panthers now possess third place in the Atlantic. The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins are both in action today as well and hold the wild card spots.
The game saw the Maple Leafs receive the play for most of a first period where they dug a two goal deficit early. After finally getting some traction in the offensive zone and sustaining some pressure, Morgan Reilly got the Leafs on the board late in the second period with a well timed wrist shot from the point. Order appeared to be restored after Nazem Kadri put one home to tie the game at two before the period came to a close.
Nylander opened the 3rd by putting one past Craig Anderson at 2:04 of the final frame but that lead would be short lived. Two quick goals by the Senators, 54 seconds apart would be all it took to seal a win for the Sens. A team that now sits a surprising two points back of the Montreal Canadians for first place in the Atlantic with three games at hand.
Mark Stone had a remarkable night, recording five points on the evening.
There are no pedestrian games left for the tightly packed Eastern Conference and tonight is no exception. Every point from here on in can make an enormous difference for playoff hopes leading up to the trade deadline. Tonight’s game pits the Hurricanes league best penalty kill against the Leafs NHL leading power play in a rare encounter of best in class special teams . The Hurricanes sit second last in the East and fall into the bottom third of most key indexes but after dropping 8 of their last 11 games, the slumping Leafs have every reason to be concerned.
A win will perhaps stall some of the increasing doubt about this team’s playoff chances. The Leafs have not had any sustained success since Morgan Reilly’s absence destabilized the lineup in late January though and Mitch Marner, who is tied for the team lead in scoring with Auston Mathews is still nursing a shoulder injury and will not play. The team has been mostly immune to injuries this season and the young squad is now learning that finding a way to get the job done without regulars in the lineup is part of what playoff bound teams do. Back to back games have also been a sore spot for the struggling Leafs.
“That’s part of being a good pro is bringing it every night,” Babcock pointed out. “There isn’t anything about tricks (for games on back-to-back nights). It’s real simple, you’ve got to win on a nightly basis if you want to be in playoffs.”
Curtis McElhinney (4-4-2) is probable to start in net for the Leafs versus Cam Ward (21-17-7)
This latest stretch has really exposed the lack of depth on the Leafs roster, particularly on the back end and reminded the faithful how only 57 games separate them from a last place finish. The Leafs sure seem to have turned into a pumpkin as of late and they will need to find ways to win with what they have in the remaining 25 games if they want to treat Bay Street to some spring hockey. It’s worth reminding Leaf fans how the progress we’ve enjoyed this year was a welcome surprise. I hope that it lasts a little longer.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
Komarov — Kadri — Leivo
Hyman — Matthews — Nylander
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Brown
Martin — Smith — Soshnikov
Gardiner — Carrick
Hunwick — Polak
Aho — Stall – Lindholm
McGinn — Rask — Ryan
Skinner — Teravainen — Stempniak
Nordstrom — McClement — Stahlberg
Hainsey — Faulk
Slavin — Tennyson
Hanifin — Dahlbeck
MORGAN RIELLY – POST GAME : FEB 18th