Hurricanes-Maple Leafs Preview
Carolina hasn't conceded a season series to Toronto in nearly a decade, and it seems unlikely to change given the Maple Leafs' defensive zone struggles and the extended proficiency of the Hurricanes' goaltender.
Nevertheless, that run is on the line Thursday night in Toronto with the Maple Leafs a loss away from their third skid of at least five games.
Carolina (28-23-10) is looking to string together wins after Tuesday's 3-1 home win over Philadelphia and improve on a 5-2-2 span over which it's totaled 27 goals.
Joakim Nordstrom scored in a third straight game, Jordan Staal scored for the fourth time in five games and has 12 points in his last nine, and Eric Staal ended a 16-game goal drought but was left thinking the Hurricanes could have shown more after being outshot 37-18. It matched a season low-shot total, and the margin of 19 was their worst of the season.
"It wasn't our best game, but (goaltender) Cam (Ward) was our best player by a stretch," Eric Staal told the team's official website. "It was nice to get some timely goals and a regulation win against a team that's trying to catch us."
It led coach Bill Peters to introduce new lines in practice Wednesday, highlighted by center Victor Rask joining the top line and moving Eric Staal to left wing.
"It looked like it got stale a little bit," Peters said. "I'm not saying that's what we'll go with but I at least wanted to practice with them in case we do go with that."
Ward made 36 saves and improved to 9-4-4 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .930 save percentage dating to Dec. 18. He's limited the Maple Leafs to a goal in his last three games against them as part of a 7-1-2 span with a 1.68 GAA and .941 save percentage.
The Hurricanes are 22-7-2 since losing three of four to the Maple Leafs in 2006-07, a run that includes a 1-0 win in Toronto on Jan. 21 and 2-1 shootout loss in Carolina on Nov. 20. Over a 5-0-1 span in the series, Carolina has outscored Toronto 18-5. Jordan Staal has six goals and six assists in 10 games against the Leafs since joining the Hurricanes, including the only goal last month.
"We've played them hard both times, but they've been low-scoring, tight, highly-contested games," Peters said. "I don't expect anything different."
He might want to take a better look at the Maple Leafs recent results. Toronto (20-28-10) has given up 36 goals during a 1-6-1 span, and it didn't have a defenseman over 25 years old in Tuesday's 3-2 home loss to Nashville.
"If you think that I'm not trying to get these guys to play as hard as they can possibly play, you're missing the boat," coach Mike Babcock told the team's official website. "They give me a group and I do everything I can to help that team win. We go through how are we going to win (Thursday)."
Josh Leivo scored for a third straight game, though Toronto has yet to win in the 22-year-old's seven NHL games this season. Defenseman Morgan Rielly, 21, scored the other and has played right around 26 minutes in each of the last two games.
"These young guys, including myself, have a chance to grow, have a chance to get more responsibility and play in more situations and I think it's going to help us out in the long run," Rielly said.
Jonathan Bernier will start hoping to end a seven-game winless stretch that includes a 0-5-0 record, 3.92 GAA and .872 save percentage.