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Maple Leafs Host Rangers

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

GAME: New York Rangers (11-11-5-2) at Toronto Maple Leafs (16-6-5-3).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Toronto Maple Leafs look to resume their best stretch of the season as they host the New York Rangers at Air Canada Centre.

Toronto has picked up 19 of a possible 20 points in its last 10 games (9-0-0-1) -- with a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Tuesday serving as the only blemish during the run.

El Belfour stopped all 28 shots he faced to earn his third shutout of the season and 68th of his career in Thursday's 1-0 win at Minnesota. Belfour is second in shutouts among active goaltenders behind New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who has 70.

"It looked like you couldn't shoot a marble by him. That's the way Eddie plays. There's not many nights when he's not on. That's why he's had the career he's had," said Tom Fitzgerald, who scored Toronto's lone goal. "To us he's the best goaltender in the league. He gives us a chance every night to get two points."

The Maple Leafs have beaten the Rangers in two previous meetings this season, taking both ends of a home-and-home series from Nov. 30-Dec. 2.

Eric Lindros' promotion to the Rangers' top line paid instant dividends Friday as New York posted a 3-1 win at Buffalo.

Trying to snap Lindros and the rest of the Rangers out of a funk, coach Glen Sather decided to elevate the center to a line featuring Alexei Kovalev and Martin Rucinsky. The trio delivered, producing a goal, two assists and 10 shots, including five by Kovalev and three by Lindros.

"They had a lot of great chances," Sather said. "They were too strong and that team couldn't handle those guys."

Lindros assisted on Kovalev's fifth goal of the season, and is now just two shy of 800 career NHL points. He was thankful he could finally get into a groove knowing that he would be taking a regular shift.

"You get involved because you know it's coming and you're ready to go," he said. "But every line generated their chances."

Anson Carter also tallied for the Rangers, his eighth goal of the season and fourth in five games.

STANDINGS: Rangers - 29 points, 3rd place, 14 PB, Atlantic Division. Maple Leafs - 40 points, 1st place, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Mark Messier, 10 goals; Kovalev, 18 assists and 23 points; Chris Simon, 129 PIM. Maple Leafs - Mats Sundin, 11 goals, 18 assists and 29 points; Owen Nolan, 71 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 11): Rangers - Power play: 14.7 percent (15 for 102), 20th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.2 percent (114 for 137), 23rd. Maple Leafs - Power play: 17.3 percent (24 for 139), 10th. Penalty killing: 83.7 percent (118 for 141), 16th.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Mike Dunham (6-10-4, 1 SO, 2.44 GAA); Jussi Markkanen (5-2-1, 2, 2.47). Maple Leafs - Belfour (13-9-3, 3, 2.35); Trevor Kidd (1-0-0, 0, 2.00).

SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 2; Maple Leafs, 5-4. At Toronto, Nolan scored the go-ahead goal and Joe Nieuwendyk had a goal and two assists to lead Toronto.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 5-6-3-0 on the road; Maple Leafs - 6-2-1-2 at home.

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