The Toronto Maple Leafs
and New Jersey Devils
will attempt Thursday to inch closer to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
With the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres
(76 points) and ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes
(74) two of only eight teams idle, the Maple Leafs (72) and Devils (70) want to continue picking up points.
Toronto, fresh off a 3-1 win in Carolina on Wednesday, plays in Florida. The Leafs have picked up 11 points in their last 10 games (4-3-3) and currently occupy the 10th seed.
New Jersey, meanwhile, is in Ottawa to face a young Senators team that dealt the Devils their last loss, 2-1 at the Prudential Center on March 8. The Devils are in 11th, but have gone 23-3-2 in their last 28 games.
They also play Friday, returning home to face Washington. With Buffalo off again, the Devils could close to within two points of eighth if they win their next two games, though the Hurricanes also play Friday against the Islanders and could tie the Sabres for eighth with a win.
Picking up points night after night is a big enough challenge for the Maple Leafs and Devils, but they're also jockeying for position with one another, the Atlanta Thrashers
(70 points) and the teams directly ahead of them. Including the New York Rangers
, at 78 points, there were six Eastern Conference teams within eight points of each other battling for the final two playoff spots as of Thursday.
The Maple Leafs and Devils face each other once more this season, April 6 at the Prudential Center. It's the next-to-last game of the season for Toronto, which closes with Montreal, while New Jersey will have two games remaining, at the Rangers and at home against Boston.
Each team has completed its season series against the Hurricanes but has a game left against the Sabres. The Devils will travel to Buffalo on March 26, while the Maple Leafs will host them at the Air Canada Centre on March 29.
Each team also will have to navigate a tricky road trip during the stretch run. Toronto has three games remaining against Western Conference foes and will play them next week, making stops in Minnesota, Colorado and Detroit.
New Jersey, meanwhile, plays its final game against the West on Sunday in Columbus, and then also has to travel to Boston and Pittsburgh before concluding its trip with that all-important game in Buffalo.