The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Winter Classic victory was the lone one in four matchups with Detroit last season, and two defeats to the Red Wings were part of a late-season collapse that ultimately kept them out of the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs carry a two-game win streak into the first meeting with their Atlantic Division rivals this season while Detroit attempts to avoid a third consecutive defeat in Friday night’s opener of a home-and-home series.
Toronto topped Detroit 3-2 in a shootout at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1 but went 0-2-1 in the three indoor matchups. The Maple Leafs suffered the two regulation defeats in March during a 2-12-0 stretch that would leave them nine points out of playoff contention.
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Detroit used those two wins to help take the East’s final postseason spot and extend their franchise-record streak of playoff berths to 23 seasons.
The Red Wings are off to an uneven start in their attempt to extend to that streak. After splitting its first two games, Detroit needed Gustav Nyquist’s third-period goal and Jimmy Howard’s 37 saves to come away with one point against Boston on Wednesday.
The Red Wings (1-1-1) couldn’t earn the second one in a 3-2 shootout loss.
"Howie stole a point for us tonight," coach Mike Babcock said. "Boston competed harder than we did and they played better than we did, so we’re happy to get a point out of this."
Toronto (2-2-0) also used a third-period goal – from Joffrey Lupul – and another strong effort from goaltender James Reimer to force overtime against Colorado on Tuesday. The Maple Leafs, though, came away with a second point when Phil Kessel scored 34 seconds into the extra session.
Kessel has two goals and three assists in his team’s back-to-back wins. Reimer stopped 24 of 26 shots in a 6-3 victory at the New York Rangers on Sunday before leaving for precautionary reasons following a collision with Dominic Moore.
With the teams playing in Detroit on Saturday night, it’s unclear if Reimer or Jonathan Bernier will start Friday. Bernier has allowed nine goals in his two starts and gave up four in his latest game against the Red Wings on March 29. However, he was also in net for the win in Ann Arbor, making 41 saves.
Reimer is 0-2-0 with a 3.94 goals-against average in three career starts against Detroit.
"Any time you can have a couple of good guys that are at a certain position pushing each other, it’s obviously best for the team," Reimer said. "We push each other, but we’re supporting each other too."
Howard, who went 2-0-1 with a 1.95 GAA versus Toronto last season, will reportedly start Friday.
Nyquist, who has scored in each of the first three games, tallied a pair of goals on Reimer in a 3-2 victory March 18. He has three goals in his last two games against Toronto.
Darren Helm recorded his only career hat trick in the win in Toronto on March 29, the Red Wings’ second in as many visits last season.
Lupul has eight goals and five assists in his last 12 games against Detroit, but his status is unknown because of a lower-body injury.
Tyler Bozak, who has a team-best six points and at least one in each of the first four games, has one goal in four career games against Detroit.
Kessel had no goals and two assists in last season’s four meetings.