TORONTO – The matchup tonight at Air Canada Centre sets up as an important one in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs are tied for 9th place with 43 points and identical 19-15-5 records. The winner will jump back into the top eight and could finish the night as high as sixth in the standings. Jonas Gustavsson and Chris Mason will be between the pipes.
The Leafs are coming off an impressive 7-3 home win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, and could build some momentum with nine of their next 10 games at the ACC.
Captain Dion Phaneuf, fresh off the news of his election to the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game, emphasized the importance of consistency in the tight playoff race.
“The main thing that our team wants to concentrate on is staying even keel and playing our game, day after day, night after night," Phaneuf said. “Whether you’re in or you’re out you’ve got to win hockey games to either keep pace or move up, that’s our focus and we’re going to keep doing that.”
The Jets had an impressive run in December with a 10-3-1 mark, capitalizing on a schedule which featured 12 home games, but could not continue that success on the road Wednesday night in Montreal. The Canadiens spanked the Jets 7-3 in the first game of a four-game road trip that will see Winnipeg take on each member of the Northeast Divison.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd spoke about his club rebounding from the tough loss.
“We looked at the tape this morning and some of the things we need to be a lot better at,” Ladd said. “Our play away from the puck (needs to improve). We need to get the puck back quicker and obviously (we had) a couple turnovers that we don’t need.”
Jets center Bryan Little, out since Dec. 17th with a foot injury, skated with the team for the second straight day but is not expected to play tonight.
On the injury front for the Leafs, coach Ron Wilson revealed that defenseman John-Michael Liles is dealing with bronchitis along with the effects of a concussion from Dec. 22nd. Only when the bronchitis subsides will the team be able to assess Liles’ status.
Here are the projected lineups:
Blake Wheeler - Tim Stapleton - Evander Kane
Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Eric Fehr - Alexander Burmistrov - Chris Thorburn
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen
Tobias Enstrom - Ron Hainsey
Johnny Oduya - Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones
Joffrey Lupul - Tim Connolly - Phil Kessel
Joey Crabb - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Clarke MacArthur - Matthew Lombardi - Nazem Kadri
Darryl Boyce - David Steckel - Matt Frattin
Keith Aulie - Dion Phaneuf
Carl Gunnarsson - Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson