Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs Preview
The top of the Eastern Conference standings was determined quite a while ago. The bottom is going down to the wire, and neither team involved is doing much to avoid the undesirable title.
Both Columbus and Toronto have lost five of six, but the Blue Jackets visit the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night with a three-point cushion from the conference cellar and a shot at finalizing things.
Columbus (31-40-8) followed Saturday's 5-1 road win over Carolina with Monday's 4-2 home loss to the New York Rangers. If there was a positive that came from the loss, it was Nick Foligno scoring twice after going 15 contests without a goal. The Columbus captain had been held without a point for the last 12.
"You know what? I just let everything go tonight. Just played the game for what it was. I felt good. I think I needed to do that a lot earlier in the year," Foligno told the team's official website.
The Blue Jackets have given up 3.50 goals per game over the last six with Joonas Korpisalo and Sergei Bobrovsky splitting time in goal. Korpisalo faced the Rangers, so Bobrovsky is expected to return against Toronto hoping to end his own three-game losing streak.
His often-interrupted season includes a 2-7-0 record and 3.39 goals-against average over his last 10 games, though he's 7-3-0 with a 2.11 mark in his career against the Maple Leafs.
The teams have split two games with Toronto looking to take two of three in the series for a second straight season. With three games remaining, a loss to the Blue Jackets would assure the Maple Leafs of last place in the East.
Any progress the Maple Leafs were showing in the middle of last month has fallen off with a three-game losing streak. Over a 1-5-0 span, they've scored 12 goals with five coming in their win in Florida on March 29.
The Panthers avenged that with Monday's 4-3 final to put Toronto (28-40-11) in position for its sixth losing streak of at least four games this season. It's also in danger of losing four straight in regulation at Air Canada Centre for the first time since March 2014 in its home finale.
"It's just a process right now," coach Mike Babcock said. "We like where we're at. We don't like the standings - don't get me wrong. It's hard to believe you're in the last week of the season and you're not preparing for the playoffs. ... There's been lots of positive things happening, but now we have to keep doing them. There's a long way from (our 67 points) and 100 or 115."
Colin Greening scored twice and has three goals in his last two games after managing three in his first 26 of the season. All but one of his games have come with the Maple Leafs after being acquired Feb. 9 from Ottawa in a nine-player deal.
"This system is something that I can thrive in," Greening said. "It's based on skating, being above people, which I think is my best asset - my skating. Besides that, I can't really pinpoint it.
"Just given an opportunity and trying to make the most of it. At the end of the day, if you talk to any player, that's all they want is an opportunity."
Jonathan Bernier and Garret Sparks have been splitting time, so Sparks could be in goal after Bernier faced the Panthers. He's lost three straight and has a 3.58 GAA over a 1-3-0 span.