Jets-Maple Leafs Preview
The Toronto Maple Leafs earned a huge victory in their last contest, but time is running out for them to make the playoffs.
More specifically, the Leafs are short on games remaining compared to their main competitors for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot, so they'll look to continue making the most of opportunities to earn points when they host the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night.
Toronto (38-32-8) defeated Boston 4-3 in overtime Thursday on Nazem Kadri's goal in the extra period, its second straight win since an eight-game losing streak that may end up sinking its season. The Leafs are close behind Detroit and Columbus for a wild-card berth, but those teams went into Friday's action with two games in hand.
The Leafs' closest pursuers, Washington and New Jersey, also had played two fewer games going into Friday's contests, so Toronto might simply run out of chances to pick up points even if it continues to play well over the final week. The club needs a good number of those opponents' yet-to-be-played games to end in regulation losses.
''We're alive, but there's a lot of things that have to go our way,'' coach Randy Carlyle said. ''Make sure that we don't get too far ahead of ourselves. We've only won two games here.''
After this contest, the Leafs close the season with three in a row on the road, where they've dropped four straight in regulation.
The loss of top goaltender Jonathan Bernier doesn't help matters. He left 7:22 into the third period after Paul Ranger pushed the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron into him.
He'll be sidelined three weeks because of a knee sprain Carlyle said on Friday
Backup James Reimer, who stopped 10 of 11 shots after coming in for Bernier on Thursday, will be counted on to keep alive the Leafs' slim playoff chances.
''We've won two in a row now, so that's a starting point,'' center Tyler Bozak said. ''We have huge games coming up here to end the season. But that was a tough test for our team tonight, and we were able to come out on top.''
The next test might not be as difficult, as Winnipeg (34-34-10) has gone 4-8-4 in its last 16 and was eliminated from playoff contention with a 4-2 home loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Jets franchise hasn't made the playoffs since the team was the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006-07.
Coach Paul Maurice led Winnipeg to an 11-3-1 mark in the first 15 games after he replaced Claude Noel on Jan. 12, but the current slump, marked by numerous key injuries, put an end to the club's postseason hopes.
"The hole we put ourselves in at the beginning of the year, it's tough to climb back," center Olli Jokinen told the team's official website. "But at the same time, we took huge steps ahead getting back in the (race) and making it exciting. We put ourselves in a position where we still had a chance, and that's something that the guys can proud of."
Jokinen and Zach Redmond scored for the Jets, who totaled two goals for the third time in four games.
Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul was scratched with a lower-body injury Thursday, and Carlyle told the team's website that he was "doubtful" for this game. Lupul has scored a goal in three of his last six contests.
Winnipeg has taken three straight in the series, beating Toronto 5-4 on Jan. 25. The Jets have scored five goals in each game of the winning streak.