MAPLE LEAFS (16-23-9) at CAPITALS (28-12-6)
Toronto 3-6-1; Washington 6-4-0
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season between these teams. The home team has won the first three. Washington claimed a 6-4 win at the Verizon Center on Oct. 3, but Toronto has held serve at the Air Canada Centre with a 2-1 shootout win on Nov. 21 and a 6-3 win on Dec. 12.
Although they've gradually improved as the season has gone along, the Maple Leafs still began play Thursday next-to-last in the Eastern Conference, nine points out of a playoff spot. Before they faced off against the Flyers, GM Brian Burke assured that coach Ron Wilson's job is "as safe as the gold in the treasury at Fort Knox." Toronto proceeded to play one of its better games of the season, blanking Philadelphia 4-0 behind 38 saves from Vesa Toskala.
"There is not going to be a coaching change," Burke said. "That has not been considered, discussed, or whatever."
Toskala was outstanding in picking up his first shutout and just his seventh win of the season, but Thursday was also a big night for rookie Tyler Bozak
. In just his third NHL game, the undrafted college free agent made a spectacular move on a Flyers defenseman before scoring his first career goal to open the scoring midway through the second period.
"What a goal," said Phil Kessel
, who drew the primary assist on the play. "Highlight of the night. It's got to be. That was pretty special, especially to have that for your first goal. It was something else."
"The guys were joking with me, saying I don't have to lie to my kids," Bozak said. "When I'm a grandparent, I don't have to lie about my first goal. It's nice to get a nice one."
This will be the third game in four nights for Washington, which split a pair of games in Florida. The Capitals rebounded from a 7-4 loss to the Lightning on Tuesday by rallying from a three-goal deficit to edge the Panthers 5-4 in a shootout on Wednesday. A goal by Tomas Fleischmann in the sixth round of the penalty-shot tiebreaker proved to be the difference.
"We always had that feeling tonight that something good was going to happen, we were always in striking range," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Once we made it 4-2 near the end of the second, we thought we could come back. Fortunately, for us, we did."
Bozak added an assist Thursday on a Nikolai Kulemin
goal and has four points in his first three games for Toronto. Kulemin and Lee Stempniak have goals in two straight.
has three goals and five assists during a six-game points streak for Washington. Alex Ovechkin
has two goals and five assists during a four-game points streak. Nicklas Backstrom
has four goals and two assists during a four-game points streak. Alexander Semin
has five goals and two assists in his last five games.
Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek
remains out with an upper-body injury. Forwards Mikhail Grabovski
(broken wrist) and Wayne Primeau (knee) are on injured reserve. … Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov is on injured reserve with a groin injury, while defenseman John Erskine
is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Toskala earned both Leafs wins against the Capitals this season. Niklas Hagman leads Toronto with three goals, while Ovechkin has three goals for Washington.
The Capitals play their next three games and seven of the nine remaining this month at the Verizon Center, where they are 14-3-3 this season.