The Detroit Red Wings have already contributed to Toronto’s longest losing streak in three seasons, jeopardizing the Maple Leafs’ playoffs hopes.
The Red Wings will try to boost their postseason chances again by ending a three-game skid and sending the reeling Maple Leafs to an eighth consecutive defeat Saturday night.
Detroit (33-26-14) used a pair of third-period goals to secure a 3-2 victory over visiting Toronto on March 18 to initiate a three-game win streak. The Red Wings have gone 0-2-1 since and gave up two goals in the third period in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to Montreal after rallying from a two-goal deficit.
Tomas Tatar scored twice in that frame to tie the score with 15 1/2 minutes remaining, but the Red Wings suffered their first regulation loss at home since Jan. 20. They were 8-0-3 in their previous 11 at Joe Louis Arena.
"My big thing here today is just, as we said earlier, catch-up hockey is losing hockey. You’ve got to get prepared, you’ve got to play right and you have to do it for 60 minutes and be patient," coach Mike Babcock said. "When you start chasing the game like we were tonight anything can happen. It’s entertaining and all that for the fans but it’s not a recipe for success whatsoever."
Detroit is one of four teams with 80 points in the Eastern Conference but remains in the final playoff spot with more non-shootout wins than Washington and Toronto (36-31-8).
The Maple Leafs had the East’s fourth-best record on March 15 but have steadily fallen down the standings with seven consecutive regulation defeats. Toronto has been outscored 28-17 during the skid and let Philadelphia take the lead for good midway through the second period in a 4-2 defeat Friday.
"There’s no easy ones in the NHL, and this one is real tough because of the situation we continue to put ourselves in," coach Randy Carlyle said.
Jonathan Bernier has given up four goals in each of his two games since returning from a groin injury. With the Leafs playing on back-to-back days, they could turn to James Reimer but he’s 0-5-0 with a 4.22 goals-against average in his last five starts.
Reimer was in net for the loss in Detroit earlier this month and is 0-2-0 with a 3.94 GAA in three all-time matchups. Bernier is 2-0-1 with a 1.41 GAA in his past three meetings with the Red Wings and made 41 saves in a 3-2 shootout victory in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1.
Jimmy Howard is expected to be in net for Detroit and is 1-0-1 with a 1.92 GAA in his two games against Toronto this season. He has a 4.01 GAA during the Red Wings’ current slide, their worst since a six-game skid Dec. 7-17.
Former Maple Leaf Jonas Gustavsson started in the team’s only over visit to Toronto this season, a 5-4 shootout win Dec. 21 that snapped Detroit’s four-game road losing streak in the series. Tatar, who scored the tying goal with 6:16 remaining in regulation, has three goals and three assists in his last three games.
Gustav Nyquist has nine goals and two assists in his last seven, and scored twice March 18.
The Maple Leafs’ losing streak is their worst since an eight-gamer Oct. 28-Nov. 13, 2010, and they’ve dropped a season-high three in a row at home. Toronto hasn’t lost four in a row at the Air Canada Centre since an 0-8-3 skid Feb. 11-March 29, 2012.
Joffrey Lupul has seven goals and five assists in his last 11 matchups against Detroit.