The Toronto Maple Leafs are surging toward their first playoff berth in nine years. The New York Rangers have also turned it on since reshaping their team before the trade deadline, and they're hoping to catch the Leafs and others in the Eastern Conference race.
Seeking their fifth win in six games, the Leafs host the Rangers - winners of four straight in Toronto - in the opener of a crucial home-and-home series Monday night.
The Maple Leafs (21-13-4) have been battling Ottawa for the fifth spot while solidifying their postseason hopes by going 6-1-3 in the past 10. Toronto hasn't made the playoffs since 2003-04.
James Reimer made 27 saves and just missed his second shutout in three games in a 2-1 victory at New Jersey on Saturday.
"We're happy with the win but we have a couple of more big games coming up with the Rangers, and the Devils again, so it's going to be key for us to get a few more wins and keep this thing going," center Tyler Bozak said.
Reimer has gone 5-1-3 with a 2.11 goals-against average in his last nine games. However, he allowed four goals on 41 shots in a 5-2 loss at New York on Jan. 26, when the Maple Leafs led 2-0 in the first period but gave up four goals in the third.
That was Toronto's third consecutive defeat in the series.
The Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist has also been outstanding of late, going 6-2-2 with a 1.56 GAA in his past 10 starts. He turned in perhaps his best performance of the season Saturday, making 48 saves in a 4-1 win over Carolina.
Lundqvist has gone 4-2-0 with two shutouts and a 1.99 GAA in his last six in this series, though he's likely to sit out one of the games against Toronto after starting Friday and Saturday.
At 3-0-1 in its last four and 2-0-1 since shipping out star forward Marian Gaborik at the deadline and adding four players in two trades, New York (19-15-4) has moved into seventh place in the East. One of the lowest-scoring teams in the NHL, the Rangers have recorded at least four goals in their last three victories.
"The belief in here has held strong, we've held together and we've seen some things that we're improving along the way,' center Brad Richards said. "Now we're getting some points. No matter how you get them, we need them desperately.'
Rick Nash scored for the third time in four games Saturday to push his team-leading total to 15. He has a goal and six assists in his last five games against the Maple Leafs.
Derek Stepan had a goal and an assist versus the Hurricanes to give him three and three during a four-game point streak.
New York has also seen a resurgence on the power play, going 5 for 11 over the last three games after a 2-for-23 effort in the previous 11. That newfound efficiency will be tested against a Toronto team that ranks near the top of the league in penalty killing at 86.7 percent.
The Leafs' James van Riemsdyk has scored one goal in three of his last four against the Rangers.
Toronto is expected to be without left wing Joffrey Lupul because of an undisclosed injury sustained Thursday.
The Maple Leafs have totaled four goals and been shut out twice during their home losing streak to the Rangers, who host Toronto on Wednesday.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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