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At the Rink blog

Maple Leafs, Sharks both badly in need of two points

Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:42 PM

By Neil Acharya - NHL.com Correspondent / At the Rink blog

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks rarely play each other, but when they do battle Thursday night at Air Canada Center, it will be a contest between two teams that share some troubling similarities.

Both clubs have been struggling as of late and are fighting to hold on to a playoff position in their respective conferences.

The Maple Leafs will start James Reimer after Jonas Gustavsson had a tough night between the pipes on Tuesday night, allowing Mark Fayne's knuckling shot to get by him in overtime in a 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils. With that loss, Toronto is 1-5-1 in the past seven games heading into action on Thursday.

"That game is in the past, I don't really even want to talk about it," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said after the morning skate Thursday. "We have to move forward very quickly, whether you win a game or you lose a game. Our thoughts are not even close to two nights ago, they are focused on what we have to do to play well as a group today and beat a team that's got a lot of experience, a lot of skill up front. ... They are a very good team and we expect a tough game tonight."

Toronto currently holds on to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, tied with ninth-place Winnipeg with 65 points.

One of the many talented players Phaneuf and the Leafs defensive corps will have to deal with is Sharks forward Logan Couture. Couture has set a blistering pace since the All-Star break, recording 15 points in 11 games.  However, as well as he has played, helping correct his team's losing ways is what is on his mind.  

"It's nice scoring goals but you'd rather have the team winning games," Couture said. "I'd rather go goalless for five games if the team could win the next five."

The Sharks are coming off an unexpected 6-3 loss to last place Columbus and have one point in their last four outings. Despite Niemi being pulled versus the Jackets, Sharks coach Todd McLellan has elected to start him again tonight with plenty on the line. A Sharks loss tonight combined with a Coyotes win could drop San Jose to seventh place.

"We're in a playoff race right now, something that we haven't been accustomed to, normally we're out in front,"  McLellan said. "I had to remind the players of that yesterday. Toronto's in the same boat we are, I expect both teams to be competitive from minute one on through."

For me, it's a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus, especially our fans in particular … people who have been devoted to this organization, it's big.

— Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards on their win vs. the Penguins in Game 2, the franchise's first-ever Stanley Cup Playoff victory