The Toronto Maple Leafs stood in second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Boston Bruins three weeks ago and appeared to be in a comfortable position to earn their second straight postseason berth.
Now they’re hoping a rare victory will help them recapture the confidence that led them to be in that spot.
Toronto enters Thursday night’s game against visiting Boston on the outside of the playoff picture, one point behind Columbus for the Eastern Conference’s final wild-card berth.
The Maple Leafs (37-32-8) snapped an eight-game losing streak with Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over Calgary, as Dave Bolland, David Clarkson and Jay McClement all scored.
"It feels like a lot of weight lifted off of our team," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We can feel good about ourselves because we won this game."
The Blue Jackets, though, have two games in hand on Toronto, which still had some struggles against one of the league’s worst teams. That fact did not escape coach Randy Carlyle.
"It’s been a long time. It’s been too long," Carlyle said. "You hope that you can build on it, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves because we didn’t paint a Mona Lisa here tonight."
Even if the Maple Leafs are fortunate enough to reach the postseason, the talk of collapses won’t end after what happened against Boston in the first round last year.
Toronto let a three-goal advantage in the third period slip away before losing Game 7 in overtime. It also had dropped 11 of the previous 12 regular-season meetings with Boston before former Bruin Phil Kessel had three assists in a 4-3 victory Jan. 14.
The Bruins (52-18-6) hold a nine-point lead over Pittsburgh for the top spot in the East and a one-point edge on St. Louis for the Presidents’ Trophy, but they’re coming off a 3-2 loss at Detroit on Wednesday.
Boston went 15-0-1 over its previous 16 before allowing the tying and winning goals over the final nine minutes of the third period. Johnny Boychuk and Carl Soderberg scored for the Bruins.
”I thought we let our guard down the second part of the third and they capitalized on it,” coach Claude Julien said.
Patrice Bergeron had his seven-game goal-scoring streak snapped, but he had an assist to give him eight goals and four assists during a nine-game point streak. He has six goals and three assists in the last four against the Leafs, including the playoffs.
Tuukka Rask started Wednesday for Boston, meaning backup Chad Johnson could get the nod in the second of a back-to-back set. Johnson is 11-0-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average in 12 starts since his last regulation loss Dec. 19 to Buffalo.
Johnson’s only career start against Toronto came Dec. 8, when he made 30 saves in a 5-2 win.
The Maple Leafs could counter with Jonathan Bernier, who stopped 22 shots Tuesday. He made 38 saves in the win over the Bruins in January but has a 4.76 GAA in three career starts against them.
Boston leading goal scorer Jarome Iginla missed his first game of the season Wednesday when he was scratched with a lower-body injury. It’s unclear if he’ll play in this contest.