TORONTO – A season that once held so much promise for the Toronto Maple Leafs is drawing to a disappointing close with just six games remaining. A regulation loss on home ice to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight would officially end Toronto’s faint playoff hopes.
The Maple Leafs have lost a franchise record nine straight home games (0-6-3), part of a late season collapse that knocked them out of a playoff position and led to the firing of coach Ron Wilson.
Wilson’s replacement, Randy Carlyle, has challenged his team to end the skid.
"We have to demonstrate more will, pride, passion, because it’s gone on long enough," said Carlyle. "That was our message after practice yesterday, that it’s unacceptable to have the home record that we have right now. And that’s what we’re going to ask of our players, and we as a coaching staff have to find a way to motivate this group to play to a higher level. It has to start tonight."
Carlyle, 4-6-2 since taking over on March 2, has put his squad through a number of grueling practices in recent weeks and hopes to see that extra work pay off in game situations.
"When people go into slumps it’s usually hard work that takes them out of it," said Carlyle. "When you’re in pro sports, either a team or an individual, you go back to the basics and you go to work.
"We’re the ones that are responsible for our record. Now it’s time for us to make a statement."
Goaltender James Reimer, who will make his seventh start in eight games, refused to give up on the Leafs playoff hopes, no matter how remote: "We’re trying to focus on winning the game and keeping our chances alive," he said.
Forwards Mike Brown (knee), Matt Frattin (ankle) and Clarke MacArthur (shoulder) are expected to return to action tonight, while Carlyle will likely dress seven defensemen.
Here are tonight’s projected lineups:
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Chad LaRose
Jeff Skinner - Jussi Jokinen - Tuomo Ruutu
Patrick Dwyer - Brandon Sutter - Drayson Bowman
Derek Joslin - Tim Brent - Anthony Stewart
Bryan Allen - Tim Gleason
Jay Harrison - Justin Faulk
Joni Pitkanen - Jamie McBain
Matthew Lombardi – Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Mikhail Grabovski – Matt Frattin
Tim Connolly - David Steckel – Joey Crabb
Jay Rosehill – Mike Brown
Dion Phaneuf – Carl Gunnarsson
John-Michael Liles – Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson