Blues-Maple Leafs Preview
A little more than a week ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs were focused on earning home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, they’re just hoping to reach the postseason.
The Maple Leafs may not have an easy time trying to avoid a season-high sixth straight defeat when they host the Western Conference-leading St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night.
On March 16, Toronto (36-29-8) began the day second in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of Tampa Bay and Montreal. However, the Maple Leafs’ five-game slide began later that day with a 4-2 loss at Washington.
With six regulation defeats in seven games, Toronto is clinging to the second wild-card spot in the East. The Leafs and wild-card leader Detroit both have 80 points, but the Red Wings have two games in hand.
Washington is one point behind, while Columbus is two back.
Toronto endured an 0-5-1 slide Feb. 18-29, 2012, and last dropped six straight in regulation while starting 0-7-1 in 2009-10.
"We have to find a way to stop the bleeding here and do everything in our power to regroup with this hockey club and get them playing to a higher level," coach Randy Carlyle said after Sunday’s 3-2 loss at New Jersey.
The Maple Leafs have been held to two goals four times and allowed 27 in the past seven contests. With Jonathan Bernier day to day with a groin injury suffered in a 3-2 win at Los Angeles on March 13, backup James Reimer has a 4.22 goals-against average in the five games since stopping 31 shots in relief against the Kings.
Reimer was pulled after yielding three goals on 10 shots Sunday as the Devils jumped out to a 3-0 lead. The Maple Leafs have trailed 3-0 twice and 2-0 two other times in the last five contests.
"We just have to come together as a group and try to have better starts to hockey games," forward Tyler Bozak told the team’s official website. "We’re playing from behind a lot lately and running out of time."
The Maple Leafs trailed 4-0 in a 6-3 loss at St. Louis (48-16-17) on Dec. 12.
In pursuit of the Presidents’ Trophy, the Blues bounced back after being outscored 8-1 in consecutive losses at Chicago and Philadelphia to win 1-0 at Pittsburgh on Sunday. David Backes scored in the third and Brian Elliott made 33 saves for his fourth shutout as St. Louis improved to 20-5-2 against the East and a league-best 23-11-3 on the road.
"When you’re in a tight game like that against a good team, the guys kind of rose up to the challenge and I tried to make a couple saves and get the rebounds out of the zone and they did the rest," said Elliott, who has a 0.98 GAA in his last three starts.
The Blues could go back to No. 1 goaltender Ryan Miller even though he allowed seven goals against the Blackhawks and Flyers after beginning his St. Louis tenure 7-0-1 with a 1.61 GAA. He’s posted a 3.01 GAA and dropped three straight during a 1-7-2 stretch at Toronto.
Miller’s U.S. Olympic teammate, Toronto’s Phil Kessel, has two goals in three games and is one shy of matching his career high of 37. He has three and four assists in seven contests against St. Louis.
Fellow U.S. Olympian Backes scored twice against the Maple Leafs in December and has two goals with two assists in three games at Toronto.