Maple Leafs-Kings Preview
While the Los Angeles Kings spent an off day retooling for another anticipated Stanley Cup run, the Toronto Maple Leafs continued to make the idea of the playoffs not so far-fetched.
As the resurgent Maple Leafs aim for a season-high fourth straight victory, the Kings look to bounce back from a rare recent loss when the teams face off Thursday night.
Absent from the postseason in nine of the past 10 seasons, Toronto (16-15-7) is creating a case for contention by going 8-2-2 since Dec. 5 as both its offense and goaltending have shown more consistency.
The Maple Leafs have averaged 3.67 goals during the 12-game stretch, while a revitalized Jonathan Bernier has allowed just three over the winning streak. After recording consecutive 39-save efforts to defeat Pittsburgh and St. Louis, he made 39 more as Toronto opened its three-game California trip with Wednesday's 4-0 win over Anaheim.
After losing his first 11 decisions and being briefly sent to the minors last month, the former Kings' first-round pick has gone 6-2-0 with a 2.21 goals-against average in eight starts.
"He's got his confidence back," coach Mike Babcock told the NHL's official website. "He's playing out of the net, he's doing things right, feels good about himself and gives our team confidence."
Bernier has been aided by an offense that's scored three or more goals in nine of the last 12, though it'll be hard-pressed to maintain that efficiency against a Kings' defense that's yielded the third-fewest goals in the NHL this season. Los Angeles (25-12-2) has been particularly stingy on home ice, having permitted just 1.93 per game while winning 12 of 15 at Staples Center.
The Leafs now face one of the league's hottest goaltenders in Jonathan Quick, named First Star of the Week on Monday after allowing four goals in four consecutive wins. The All-Star selection ran the team's streak to five by making 29 saves in Saturday's 2-1 victory over Philadelphia.
Los Angeles is coming off Tuesday's 4-1 defeat in Colorado, where backup Jhonas Enroth was hurt by a penalty kill that allowed three goals in five chances.
''We hung our goalie out to dry way too many times,'' center Anze Kopitar said. ''We have to throw it all out there and just make sure we play the right way.''
The Kings are a troubling 69.0 percent on the penalty kill over their last seven, though Toronto is just 1 of 19 on the power play over the past five.
Los Angeles has scored a power-play goal in six straight, going 7 of 20 over that stretch.
The Kings made a move towards bolstering both their depth and back line with Thursday's acquisition of veteran center Vincent Lecavalier and defenseman Luke Schenn from Philadelphia.
Lecavalier, 35, helped Tampa Bay win the 2004 Stanley Cup and has 411 goals over a 17-year career, though he played in just seven games while usually a healthy scratch with the Flyers this season. The three-time All-Star joins a Kings team that owns a 10-point lead atop the Pacific Division and has won two Cups in the past four seasons.
''There's nothing better than to be on a team that's been there,'' Lecavalier said in a phone interview conducted by the Kings. ''If you look at the standings and where they are right now, they're obviously playing some great hockey. I know the Kings have high expectations for the players, and I love that. ... Just to be a part of that, it's very exciting.''
Toronto, which has won five of six on the road, had a three-game win streak at Staples Center halted with a 2-0 loss on Jan. 12.