The Leafs will turn to Jonathan Bernier in goal tonight as they look to knock off the New York Islanders in the final game at Nassau Coliseum between the two teams. David Clarkson will also return to the lineup in place of a week-to-week Joffrey Lupul.
"He's (Clarkson) proud and he has shown in practice that he has worked hard and he's prepared," said interim coach Peter Horachek. "He has acted like a pro and practiced hard. That's what you want to see out of a guy and how you want to see him respond."
"I expect him to go out, play hard and have a good game."
The Leafs will take on one of the top squads in the Eastern Conference tonight. The Islanders have 71 points in 51 games with a 35-18-1 record. The Leafs will need a strong defensive effort to match the third highest-scoring offence in the League.
"They have an all-around pretty darn good team," said Jake Gardiner. "Their defence is good, their forwards are some really skilled guys and they're pretty deep. It's going to be a tough game tonight."
The Islanders will bring Cal Clutterbuck back into their lineup tonight. He has been out of the lineup since Feb. 7 with an upper-body injury and is slated to skate alongside Brock Nelson and Nikolai Kulemin to begin tonight's game.
Jaroslav Halak will start in goal for the Isles who are 5-2-1 in their last eight games against the Maple Leafs.
"He's relaxed, he's playing confident and he's back to having fun," said Islanders head coach Jack Capuano on Halak. "I think you're starting to see the success start to come..."He has worked extremely hard. He's competitive, he's aggressive, he has been a great teammate for us and he's a big part of why we are where we are in the standings."
Tonight's meeting is slated to be the first between the Islanders and Leafs since October. They will meet a final time in Toronto later this season in March.
"They handled us pretty good last time. I saw the team going to New Jersey and the Rangers game and they're playing hard," said Capuano on the Leafs. "When you compete and play hard with some triggers and weapons like they have, not only on the backend like Gardiner and Morgan Rielly that transition well. Up front you have van Riemsdyk, Kessel and Bozak. They've got a pretty good team and we've got to be ready to play tonight."
The Leafs were burned by a slow start on Tuesday night, falling behind by a 4-2 margin to the Rangers. While they equalized early in the third period, they did not have enough the tank to complete the comeback and dropped a 5-4 scoreline at home.
"We didn't execute well enough," said Cody Franson. "It's not acceptable. We have to be much better than that and we know that."
"The Isles have been playing very well this year and in order to have success against a team like this you have to execute and execute at a high level."
The Islanders come into tonight's game having won their last two, but are 5-5 in their last 10. They have been a tough squad to beat on home ice this season with an 18-6-0 record.
The Isles knocked off the Oilers on Tuesday night. Casey Cizikas scored the game winner while Colin McDonald and Josh Bailey also chipped in with goals. Jaroslav Halak made 34 stops to improve his record to 29-11-0.
Tonight's meeting will be the second of the season for the two clubs and the first since October.
The Leafs and Islanders met earlier this season on Oct. 21 on Long Island, where the Leafs came out on top of a 5-2 decision.
Four unanswered goals - including two from Phil Kessel - in the second period on 13 shots put the Leafs on track for a victory. Roman Polak's first goal as a Maple Leafs held up as the game winner while Jonathan Bernier made 34 stops to pick up the victory.
Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov earned three star selections to cap off the night.
ONE TO WATCH
Lee, the 152nd selection in the 2009 NHL Draft, has been a revelation of sorts for the Isles this season. The big power forward sits second on the team in scoring with 16 goals in 48 games. His play has not only earned him mention in Calder Trophy discussion, but also a spot alongside John Tavares.
With Kyle Okposo out of the lineup, Lee has slotted onto the top line alongside Tavares and Josh Bailey. He brings a combination of grit and skill to the unit reminiscent of former Islander winger Matt Moulson. Moulson, for those who don't recall, scored 30 goals in three consecutive seasons for the Isles.
While many are waiting to see if Lee will slip, his standard and underlying numbers indicate he has been full value. The Islanders have the lion's share of the puck when he is on the ice and, in turn, record a high percentage of scoring chances when he takes his shifts.
Look for him to pose a challenge for Leafs defenders around the crease and in the corners. Shutting down Tavares is always top priority against the Islanders but Lee makes the task that much more difficult.
HOLZER ON THE ISLES
Here's what Korbinian Holzer had to say about tonight's game with the Islanders following today's morning skate.
On the challenge of their offensive weapons and special teams units:
They have a skilled group, especially on the power play. It's just trying to do what we've done so far on the PK, which has been pretty good lately. I think we're just trying to take it out of the skilled guys hands and try to force shots from the outside and make it easy for the goalie to stop them. We're trying to be aggressive on their entries and on the forecheck to disrupt them as early as possible so they can't get set up in the neutral zone or run the break out they want to run. You also need 200 foot clears all the way down the ice. Make them go all the way down the ice and wear them down. In front of the net you have to be hard on them, take away time and space and try to make it as hard as possible to make those backdoor plays or passes through the slot, which are the most dangerous for goalies.
On playing at Nassau for the final Leafs/Islanders game:
I played here two years ago during the lockout season. It's definitely a special building, you can tell there's a lot of history in here. It has been nice to get a game back here before they move. There's a lot of history here and it's a fun place to play.
On his comfort level vs. past stretches in the League:
I'm more mature coming in here, knowing what it takes and what I have to do. I'm just trying to be consistent, that's my goal every day. I want to be consistent in every game I play. Even if you feel like you had a bad day, for me it's how good can you be on your worst day. I'm trying to have that consistency in my game, play hard, be hard to play against. Make the simple plays and try to be comfortable and confident out there.
Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Islanders based on yesterday's practices for both teams...
Toronto Maple Leafs
26 Winnik - 43 Kadri - 25 Santorelli
21 van Riemsdyk - 42 Bozak - 18 Panik
47 Komarov - 24 Holland - 71 Clarkson
20 Booth - 23 Smith - 81 Kessel
51 Gardiner - 4 Franson
44 Rielly - 46 Polak
55 Holzer - 12 Robidas
New York Islanders
27 Lee - 91 Tavares - 12 Bailey
84 Grabovski - 51 Nielsen - 18 Strome
86 Kulemin - 29 Nelson - 12 Clutterbuck
17 Martin - 53 Cizikas - 13 McDonald
2 Leddy - 55 Boychuk
37 Strait - 3 Hamonic
14 Hickey - 11 Visnovsky