Hurricanes-Maple Leafs Preview
A regulation loss by the Toronto Maple Leafs or Carolina Hurricanes will eliminate that team from playoff contention, but even the winner of Tuesday night's matchup will almost certainly suffer that fate in a matter of days.
The Maple Leafs and Hurricanes try to stave off elimination when they meet at Air Canada Centre to close out their season series.
Carolina (30-31-15) and Toronto (33-34-9) have 75 points apiece and are in 12th and 13th place, respectively, in the Eastern Conference - nine points out of eighth.
The Maple Leafs and Hurricanes have six games remaining, so a regulation loss would leave one of them 11 points out of a playoff spot with 10 possible points available. The winner will still be in postseason contention, but with a remote chance of earning a berth considering it will be nine back with five to play.
"We're trying to win every game regardless of whether we get booed or we get cheered,'' Toronto's David Steckel said after a 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday.
The Leafs have been getting booed a lot lately by their hometown fans.
Since beating Edmonton on Feb. 6, Toronto has dropped a franchise-worst nine consecutive home games. The Leafs, who supposedly have made a stronger commitment to defense under new coach Randy Carlyle, have surrendered at least four goals in all but two games during their home skid.
While the defense has struggled, Phil Kessel has shined on home ice, scoring 25 of his team-high 36 goals in Toronto. The Leafs, however, have lost the last four home games in which he scored after winning the previous seven in Toronto when he recorded a goal.
The Leafs, 5-15-3 in their last 23, play four of their final six games at Air Canada Centre.
The Hurricanes arrive in Toronto to conclude a three-game road trip. Carolina lost Friday's opener 5-1 to Columbus and fell 5-4 to Detroit the following night.
The Hurricanes, winners of four in a row prior to the road trip, jumped out to a 4-1 lead over the Red Wings with just over three minutes to play in the second period. Detroit, though, scored two goals 18 seconds apart and another two in the third to send Carolina to a discouraging defeat.
"They've got some world-class guys and they taught us a lesson,'' Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said.
Cam Ward was under constant pressure, facing a season-high 50 shots and making 45 saves. He has been between the pipes for the first three games of the season series with the Maple Leafs, going 2-0-1 with a 2.28 goals-against average.
These teams haven't met since Dec. 29, when Eric Staal's second goal of the game 3:09 into overtime lifted Carolina to a 4-3 victory.
Staal, with team highs of 23 goals and 45 assists, has four goals and four assists in his last five games.