The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't enjoyed much success lately against the Carolina Hurricanes, but they look like the team to beat in this matchup.
Toronto will try to extend its season-best point streak to seven Thursday night when it hosts a Hurricanes team looking to snap a season-worst six-game losing streak.
The Maple Leafs (18-12-4) have dropped 10 of 13 in this series following a 4-1 home loss Feb. 4 and 3-1 defeat in Raleigh 10 days later.
Toronto, though, is in a good position to make the postseason for the first time since 2004 and end the league's longest drought. The Leafs sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with the ninth-place New York Islanders seven points back and Carolina (15-14-2) eight behind them.
Toronto leading scorer Nazem Kadri has a team-best 10 points during the 3-0-3 stretch, while Joffrey Lupul has six goals in four games since returning from a broken forearm. Lupul has scored three times - twice in Tuesday's 3-2 win over league-worst Florida - after serving a two-game suspension for an illegal check against Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman.
"We just have to enjoy this while it goes," Lupul said. "I'm not expecting it to last forever, so I just have to keep doing other things on the ice right and continue to be a factor in the game."
The Maple Leafs are going for their first four-game home winning streak since a five-game run Dec. 22, 2011-Jan. 10, 2012.
The Hurricanes are 7-1-1 in their last nine visits to Toronto, but they open a three-game trip with seven goals during an 0-5-1 skid. It's their worst stretch since an 0-6-1 slide Nov. 23-Dec. 6, 2011.
"This is playoffs right now," coach Kirk Muller told the league's official website following Tuesday's 4-1 loss to Winnipeg.
Carolina is six points back of the Jets for the Southeast Division lead - with three games in hand - and hitting the road could help the Hurricanes make up some ground. They're 8-5-2 outside Raleigh.
"We have no other choice but to play with more urgency," defenseman Jay Harrison said.
Muller might not have much of a choice but to go with goaltender Justin Peters for the time being. Cam Ward hasn't played since March 3 due to a sprained knee ligament, while backup Dan Ellis was placed on injured reserve Monday with a leg laceration suffered in last Thursday's 4-1 loss to New Jersey.
Peters, who made 31 saves Tuesday, stopped 32 shots in his only game against the Maple Leafs, a 5-1 road win March 2, 2010.
It's uncertain if James Reimer will start for Toronto or if Ben Scrivens will be back in net after Tuesday's 40-save effort.
Reimer dropped his second consecutive start to Carolina on Feb. 4 and was sidelined with a strained knee ligament in the most recent matchup. Scrivens stopped 30 shots in that game as Carolina ended Toronto's season-best four-game win streak.
Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner has one goal and no assists in the last seven games, but he's assisted on five of the team's seven scores against Toronto this season.
Jordan Staal has a team-best two goals in those contests, including his first with the Hurricanes on Feb. 4.
Carolina is 5-0-1 against Toronto since a 3-1 home loss March 16, 2011.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved