TORONTO – While celebrating their 100th anniversary on Tuesday afternoon, the Toronto Maple Leafs would like to put some recent history behind them.
The Maple Leafs have lost three in a row entering their game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Air Canada Centre.
They likely will be without star center Auston Matthews for a fifth straight game with what is listed as an upper-body injury. He has been skating, but a possible return date has yet to be determined.
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“He’s doing good, I don’t know when they’re letting him play, but he’s doing good,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have won three in a row.
“Time to get refreshed, both physically and mentally,” Babcock said. “We’ve been in every game we’ve played the last three, but haven’t found a way to win. We’ve been ahead, behind, in all scenarios. We have to find a way to get points.”
The Maple Leafs have added injury problems. Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is out with a lower-body injury after he blocked a shot during the loss to the Red Wings in Detroit on Friday. He will be out for at least two weeks.
“You can ask me how he’s doing in two weeks and we’ll go from there,” Babcock said. “The way I look at it, it creates an opportunity for (Connor) Carrick, who has been waiting all year. The ball’s in his court and we get to watch him.”
“Zee is a big part of this club, it’s my job to step in,” Carrick said. “After a couple of practices at home, we should be gunned up and energetic.”
Dubbed, the “Next Century Game”, the encounter on Tuesday commemorates the club’s first game, played Dec. 19, 1917, when they were the Toronto Arenas and faced the Montreal Wanderers.
“I think it’s fun,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said Monday. “I think it’s awesome to be a part of it, 100 years of the NHL. They’re wearing the told Toronto Arena jerseys. I think it’s going to be a fun afternoon.”
This will be third and final meeting of the season between the teams.
The Hurricanes won 6-3 at the ACC Oct. 26 and the Maple Leafs won 5-4 at Raleigh, N.C. on Nov. 24.
Peters said his team will need to play with energy against the Maple Leafs, who have had three days off in the schedule.
“(The Maple Leafs have) been off for a while and they’ll be chomping at the bit,” Peters said.
The Maple Leafs (20-13-1) are 5-5-0 in their past 10 games, while the Hurricanes (14-11-7) are 4-3-3.
In defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 on Saturday, the Hurricanes won a game in regulation for the first time since defeating the New York Islanders 4-2 on Nov. 19.
“It’s important to know how to win,” defenseman Noah Hanifin said. “If you’re going to be in the playoffs and be a tough team to play against, you have to know how to win, especially when you have leads. (Saturday), we had a lead in the whole third period and we found a way to hold it, so we’re learning from that.”
During their three-game string of wins, the Hurricanes have had solid goaltending from Cam Ward and Scott Darling.
Ward, 33, has the experience with 301 wins in 635 career games (622 starts), while Darling, 28, has 47 wins in 98 career games (86 starts).
“I’m learning every day,” Darling said. “I’ve been learning a lot from Cam, too. He’s been showing me the ropes. It’s not going to happen overnight, and I’m excited to keep working on it. He talks to me and keeps my confidence up. He’s been through it all in his career. He’s seen the highs and the lows. If he sees me down, he’s quick to give me a pat on the back.”
Before the win Saturday, Darling was in a 0-3-2 drought.
With Zaitsev on injured reserve, the Maple Leafs recalled defenseman Martin Marincin from the Marlies of the AHL. Marincin, 25, has two goals and five assists with the Marlies this season.