Maple Leafs-Canucks Preview

As the Toronto Maple Leafs try to end one major drought that

dates to before the NHL lockout, they can address another run of

futility that has lasted just as long.

It won’t be easy, however, for the Leafs to enter a hostile

atmosphere Saturday and snap a nine-game losing streak to the

Vancouver Canucks, who haven’t lost in regulation in more than a

month.

Toronto (29-23-6) hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004, but

coach Ron Wilson’s club has a chance to finally bring postseason

hockey back to Canada’s largest city as it clings to eighth place

in the Eastern Conference.

The hockey-crazed nation’s most successful franchise lately has

been Vancouver, which has showed in this matchup. The Canucks have

outscored Toronto 38-19 while winning each meeting since a 2-1 road

defeat Nov. 24, 2003.

“The Leafs have always been a team I hated as a kid,”

Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows said after scoring the game-winner in

a 5-3 victory at Toronto on Dec. 17. “I know a lot of fans in

Vancouver don’t like this team. … It just makes it extra

special.”

The Canucks (36-15-6) haven’t discriminated – they’ve been tough

on every opponent for the last several weeks, going 8-0-3 in their

last 11. Seven of those games have gone to shootouts, but they

finally escaped with a regulation win Wednesday over Colorado.

David Booth scored for the third straight game and Jannik Hansen

broke a tie with a third-period tally before Burrows’ empty-netter

sealed the 3-1 victory.

“We get off a little earlier than normal,” Hansen said. “It’s

nice to only have to play 60 (minutes).”

The Leafs needed more than that Wednesday in Edmonton, but they

were simply happy to get a 4-3 victory and snap a four-game losing

streak.

Tim Connolly scored 1:39 into overtime – his first goal in 18

games – as Toronto won despite squandering a 2-0 lead it had built

1:38 into the first period.

“We’ve been in a little bit of a rut,” Connolly said, “and to

come out and battle in a game like that where it’s going back and

forth, and really grind it out and get the win is a huge two points

for us.”

Wilson, however, is wary because the Leafs’ previous win also

came against the Oilers, 6-3 at home Feb. 6. The coach said

Edmonton’s uptempo style may have been partly responsible for

getting Toronto, which was outscored 16-5 during its slide, out of

whack.

“That’s the way Edmonton plays. It actually set us off on this

little losing skid, I think,” Wilson said. “You get into a flow

that’s going back and forth, and sometimes when you get some free

looks like we were getting, you forget about playing in your own

end.”

The Leafs will certainly have to be sharp defensively against

one of the league’s most prolific clubs, and their impressive run

of success on the penalty kill might be tested.

Opponents have scored once in 34 power-play chances over 20

games since the start of 2012 after a dreadful start to the season

for the unit. Vancouver, though, leads the league at 22.1 percent

with the man advantage despite its current 2-for-23 stretch.

The Canucks had only one power-play chance – failing to convert

– at Toronto earlier this season, but they’re 12 for 50 (24.0

percent) during the winning streak in the series.