TORONTO - There are a few perks to playing in the weakest division in the National Hockey League.
Foremost amongst them is that despite losing their seventh game in a row on Wednesday night in Toronto, the Carolina Hurricanes are still just three points back of the first place Winnipeg Jets in the Southeast Division.
The Hurricanes held a third period lead after Jordan Staal scored 6:55 into the period but then conceded four straight — two into an empty net — and lost 6-3 to the Maple Leafs.
"It's a test for us and we're still in it. It's like a playoff series," said head coach Kirk Muller with a chuckle. "You lose a few and you know it's not over yet. I don't think anyone's going to quit."
For the moment, the Hurricanes remain in second place in the Southeast with three games in hand on the first place Jets and face a vital game in Winnipeg on Saturday.
Currently in 10th place on 32 points and out of the playoffs, a good run could still have them vault into first in the division and third in the Eastern Conference.
Goaltending has complicated things, as Carolina has been without both of their top two goalies with Cam Ward missing with an MCL sprain in his left knee and backup Dan Ellis out with a lower-body injury. Until either of them gets healthy, the Hurricanes will likely be relying on Justin Peters who made 30 saves against Toronto.
"We didn't quit. We asked them to play 60 and I thought we were going hard. The bottom line is this: we didn't get the saves," said Muller. "We didn't get the saves at the right time and it cost us."
Carolina was perhaps a little fortunate to be down just a goal after the first period as the Leafs had spurned a number of chances.
Toronto got another goal in the second period before Eric Staal scored on a short-handed breakaway. That goal buoyed the Hurricanes and the fine play allowed them to tie the game in the second and take the lead in the third.
However, when a team's in a funk there's usually something that doesn't go their way and that happened in the third when Eric Staal was issued a minor penalty for putting his hand on the puck.
Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf scored to tie the game 3-3 just as the penalty expired and Staal feels strongly about the call that was made.
"I think it's a terrible rule, to be honest. I don't even know if he saw it," Staal said of the linesman who made the initial signal. "I think he guessed. I think he was guessing with the ref."