The Toronto Maple Leafs' struggles all season have been directly tied to the problems of goaltender Vesa Toskala.
Their recent success has been, too.
Toskala and the Leafs will both look to win their fourth straight game Saturday night in Ottawa, where Toronto will try to continue its late push up the standings at the expense of the provincial rival Senators.
A disappointing season from its goaltender hasn't helped Toronto (24-26-12), which is on track to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The Leafs are nine points behind Buffalo and Carolina, the two teams tied for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
But while Toskala's 3.27 goals-against average is still among the NHL's worst - and the Leafs' 3.50 mark is tied for last in the league - Toskala is 4-0-1 with a 2.08 GAA in his last five starts since getting pulled from a 6-4 loss at Tampa Bay on Feb. 12.
Despite allowing all four goals in the Leafs' 5-4 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night, Toskala made a season-high 40 saves as Toronto remained without injured defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Mike Van Ryn.
Kaberle hasn't played since Jan. 29 due to a hand injury and Van Ryn's leg problem has kept him out since Feb. 7, but both are expected to play against Ottawa (23-28-9).
"The bottom line is, we've had great goaltending. and considering Kaberle and Van Ryn have been out, we've found a way to win games," coach Ron Wilson said. "I expect us to start playing better defensively (Saturday night) with those guys getting in the lineup, but obviously Tosk has kept us in some of these games, and that's been huge for us."
The Leafs' last five games have gone into overtime, with the team going 3-0-2 over that span. They had an unlikely hero Thursday, as 26-year-old Tim Stapleton scored the shootout winner in his first NHL game.
Like Toronto, the last-place Senators had shown signs of life amid a difficult season with a 5-0-2 stretch earlier this month. But they're 1-3-0 in their last four, including a 2-1 loss to San Jose on Thursday night.
Ottawa led in the first period, but the West-leading Sharks responded with two power-play goals in the second after Senators defenseman Brian Lee had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty added to a holding call.
"For the most part we played pretty well," forward Mike Fisher said. "We created some chances and even late, we had some point-blank chances and (San Jose goalie Brian) Boucher played really well. It was just in the second period, with some discipline. Everyone knows that they have a great power play and that was the game."
Facing Ottawa, which ranks 27th in the league with 2.45 goals per game, could present a good opportunity for Toskala to continue his run. He's played all three of Toronto's games against the Senators this season, going 2-0-1 with a 1.30 GAA.
Alex Auld, who has started the last two games for Ottawa, has played well against the Leafs, with a 1.90 GAA in eight career starts. He made 25 saves in a 2-1 shootout win over Toronto at Scotiabank Place on Nov. 27.
The Leafs visit Ottawa again nine days after this meeting.
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