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Renewed hostilities

Canucks and Leafs to battle it out Saturday on HNIC

by Daniel Fung @daniel_fung / Canucks freelance writer

Saturday night with the Maple Leafs in town never lacks in the hype department.

With the Leafs already being a must-see team this season boasting reigning first overall pick Auston Matthews, and with both teams looking for a bounce-back performance, this game already has 'can't miss' written all over it.

But of course, that only scratches the surface. The biggest storyline heading into Saturday centres on it being the first meeting between the teams since their fight-filled affair a month ago at the Air Canada Centre and the residual animosity that certainly still exists.

We'll have to wait and see whether Saturday turns into a showcase of skill or a paradise for pugilists but here are five key players on each side you'll want to keep an eye on one way or another.

For the Vancouver…

Troy Stecher

The diminutive defenceman had a night he won't soon forget the last time out against the Leafs. He earned his first career NHL point on a Daniel Sedin goal, and about seven minutes later saw his entire brief NHL career flash before his eyes after being jumped by Toronto tough guy Matt Martin. He'll want a night where all he has to do is worry about jumpstarting the offence but at least he knows backup isn't far away if things get a little hairy once again.

Erik Gudbranson

One teammate Troy Stecher can count on for support if things get rough is Erik Gudbranson, who made it known loud and clear what he thought of Matt Martin following the loss to the Leafs with words that need no repeating.

A month between meetings is ample time to cool off, but Gudbranson will certainly be one worth watching although that's not to say expect him to go out of his way to provoke Martin or any other Leaf player in particular. Do expect, however, him to make his physical presence well known.

Daniel Sedin

Daniel Sedin getting back up to his feet might have been the most positive thing the Canucks took out of their loss to the Leafs back in early November. The outcome certainly could have been much worse after he was blindsided by Leafs' forward Nazem Kadri on a hit that suspiciously went unsuspended.

Luckily for Daniel he has shown no ill effects from that borderline cheap shot. In fact, he strung together one of his best stretches of the season with an eight-game point streak that happened to begin with the goal he scored seconds before being leveled by Kadri.

Alex Burrows

Burrows certainly didn't endear himself to the Leafs in the last meeting, in particular to B.C.-boy Morgan Rielly who he literally tried to take a piece of with an ill-placed stick jab. Burrows has, however, endeared himself to Canucks fans once again over the past few weeks.

Burrows, who had no points in his first nine games of the season which includes that head-to-head clash against the Leafs, has found his long-lost scoring touch lately with four goals and nine points in his last 11 contests.

Bo Horvat

Anyone who has followed the Canucks closely this season knows Bo Horvat is the engine that drives the team and if the Canucks are going to snap their three-game head-to-head losing skid against Toronto, they'll need Bo to lead the way.

Horvat didn't exactly have his finest hour against the Leafs in the November meeting failing to register a point while being on the ice for three of the six Toronto goals. He's also coming off his third-lowest ice-time of the season on Thursday against Anaheim. Look for the London, Ontario boy to be much more impactful in a positive way on Saturday playing on a national stage.

For Toronto…

Nazem Kadri

He wears No. 43 on the ice but he's public enemy number one as far as the Canuck backers in the crowd will be concerned. Kadri is typically used to hurting teams on the scoreboard - he's tied for his team lead in goals with 10 - but he has been labeled as dirty by some around the league thanks to a history of questionable hits including the one that laid out Daniel Sedin the last time these teams met.

Kadri leads his team this season with 53 penalty minutes, seven more than noted tough guy Matt Martin, with 20 of those earned in that game against the Canucks. He's been sticking to the scoreboard lately though with six points in six games prior to his team being shut out in Calgary on Wednesday.

Matt Martin

Nazem Kadri may be public enemy number one, but Matt Martin isn't that far behind. In a game that was on the verge of spiraling out of control, Martin inexplicably decided taking a run at Canucks' rookie Troy Stecher would be a good idea. All it did was nearly start a full-blown line brawl and force Canucks' goalie Ryan Miller to jump to the aid of young Stecher.

Martin, a former Islander who has led the NHL in hits for the past five seasons, will certainly be noticeable despite his limited ice time. After his actions last time out, it's a good bet he's got a date with someone his own size on Saturday.

Morgan Rielly

Vancouver-native Morgan Rielly might have drawn much more attention and ire from the Canucks and their fans had it not been for the Kadri hit that immediately followed his own borderline hit on Jannik Hansen - the play that has forced the Canuck forward to miss the past dozen games and counting.

If the Canucks were looking to send a message to Rielly on Saturday, they won't have to look hard to find him. He leads the Leafs in ice-time averaging close to 23 minutes a game. He's also the leader among team defencemen in points and shots.

Tyler Bozak

Tyler Bozak may seem like a forgotten man outside of Toronto after the shiny new additions of of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner but those who follow the Leafs closely know the 30-year-old is having quite the resurgent year.

Now the longest tenured Leaf, the former Victoria Grizzlies scoring star has gotten a lot of chances to play alongside Marner and James Van Riemsdyk and is on pace to crack the 50-point mark for the first time in his career. He was the one who got the party going for the Leafs against the Canucks back in November scoring twice and adding a helper in the romp but he's gone 11 straight games without a goal since that memorable night against Vancouver.

Auston Matthews

Auston Matthews made headlines after his first career meeting against the Canucks but it was mostly for singing along to Bon Jovi's 'Livin' On A Prayer' in between whistles. On the ice, he was mostly a non-factor although he did record five shots while earning an assist.

The rookie has had his ups and downs two months into his NHL career in terms of finding scoring consistency. He was going through a bit of a dry spell prior to that first meeting against the Canucks but this time he's coming in red hot with four goals and five points in his last four outings. Extracurricular activities aside, Matthews is without question the main attraction on this Saturday night.

TICKETS

A limited number of tickets are still available for Saturday's game. Click here to get yours now!

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