Flames-Maple Leafs Preview
The struggling Toronto Maple Leafs are suddenly in danger of missing the postseason, but they at least appear to have survived an injury scare to their top scorer.
Phil Kessel is expected to play Tuesday night when the Leafs host the Calgary Flames, who were eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend.
Toronto (36-32-8) is on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture after dropping eight straight in regulation for its longest stretch without a point since 1996. The Maple Leafs haven’t lost nine in a row since 1985.
With six games remaining, Toronto is two points in back of Columbus for the second wild-card spot.
"We’ve won six in a row in the season," goalie Jonathan Bernier said. "Obviously it’s hard to snap the long losing streak like that, but we’ve got to find a way."
The Leafs saw their woes continue in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Detroit, which owns the first wild-card spot with 84 points.
"This loss is the most disappointing out of the eight. There’s no hiding that," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We come tonight against a team that was battling for that same spot and they win this hockey game. This is the toughest loss for sure."
Defenseman Cody Franson gave Toronto a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, but the Red Wings opened the second with three unanswered goals. Bernier dropped to 0-3-0 with a 4.10 goals-against average over his last three starts.
”It’s not like we’re playing bad hockey, it’s just one of those things where every mistake that we do make ends up (in our net)," Franson said. "It’s the end of the season, everybody’s clamping down and your little mistakes end up costing you. Plain and simple."
Kessel, who leads the Leafs with 36 goals and 41 assists, labored to the bench in pain after taking a pass off his right foot. He is tied for the NHL lead with 39 points since Jan. 10, though he’s only posted four during the losing streak.
The Flames (31-37-7) are hoping to avoid a third loss in four games after falling 6-3 at Ottawa on Sunday. Rookie Sean Monahan notched his 20th goal to snap an 11-game drought and Jiri Hudler had two assists for Calgary, which gave up three unanswered goals in the third period.
"They capitalized on their chances and they put the puck in the back of the net. That’s something that we can fix and they’re simple mistakes," Monahan said. "At the end of the day we have to find a way to pull out the win."
The Flames surrender 2.93 goals per game to rank near the bottom of the league.
"We’re at a stage here that I feel we’re pushing the guys to learn how to win. Learning how to play is one thing, but learning to win is another," coach Bob Hartley said. "It’s a process – we’re going to have good games and we’re going to have bad games, and obviously (Sunday’s) game is not a good one."
Karri Ramo stopped 31 of 36 shots in dropping to 1-3-1 with a 2.99 GAA in his last five road starts.
Toronto had lost five of six to the Flames before a 4-2 win Oct. 30, as Bernier made 41 saves to improve to 2-1-0 with a 1.67 GAA against Calgary.