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Devils look to strengthen position in East vs. Leafs

by Dan Rosen
MAPLE LEAFS (32-34-8) at DEVILS (42-27-5)


Last 10:
Toronto 3-6-1; New Jersey 6-4-0

Season Series:
The Devils have won the last two meetings between the clubs, but each team has four points in the season series. Toronto beat New Jersey in regulation on Nov. 2 at Prudential Center, while each of the Devils' wins have come in overtime, most recently on Feb. 21 at Toronto.

Big Story: The Devils are looking to build on Tuesday's 1-0 win in Ottawa. They sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference right now with 89 points, five more than the Senators, who are also in action Friday at Montreal. The Leafs are coming off a pair of embarrassing losses (8-0 to Boston and 5-2 to the Islanders).

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs:
The team held a closed door meeting following Tuesday's drubbing at the hands of the Islanders. It was the Leafs' second straight blowout loss and the fourth time in nine games this month that they allowed five or more goals.

"It wasn't my message, I was listening to what they had to say," Carlyle told the media, according to the Toronto Sun, when he was asked about the post-game, team-only gathering in the locker room. "I didn't deliver any message, I was kind of asking the questions and I wanted to hear how they felt about what was going on."

What's going on is the Leafs are dealing with an elongated crisis in confidence. They have won only three of the 10 games Carlyle has coached and just four of their last 21 games since they went on a three-game winning streak at the beginning of February.

"We're trying to figure out where we go from here," winger Joey Crabb said in the Toronto Sun. "Some words were said. … Let's keep it between (the players)."

Devils: Center Travis Zajac continues to work his way back from his left Achilles tendon injury and there's an outside chance he could play Friday. Zajac has been out of the lineup since Jan. 2, and has played in only eight games this season after having surgery to repair the tendon in August.

Zajac got through a full practice Thursday, and afterward coach Pete DeBoer said a decision will be made on his availability after Friday's morning skate. Zajac said he didn't think he'd be ready, but DeBoer wasn't closing the door on him playing against the Leafs.

"He did a lot of battling, a lot of system work," DeBoer said in the Newark Star-Ledger. "That's as close to a game as we can get him as far as the situation. He handled it well. … He has to feel right mentally. Physically, I think he's very close. He just has to get it moving. We'll talk to him in the morning and see how he feels.''

Martin Brodeur is expected to start in goal after watching Johan Hedberg make 34 saves for a 1-0 win over Ottawa on Tuesday.

Who's Hot:
Devils right wing Ilya Kovalchuk has points in three straight games. He scored his 400th career goal Tuesday at Ottawa. Kovalchuk has 31 goals and 43 assists for 74 points in 69 games this season.

Injury Report:
Leafs: Joffrey Lupul (shoulder), Nikolai Kulemin (broken finger) and Mike Brown (leg) are out. Clarke MacArthur (upper body) and Matt Frattin (lower body) are day-to-day; the Leafs have recalled Nazem Kadri and Ryan Hamilton on an emergency basis. Devils: Zajac and Henrik Tallinder (blood clot) are out.

Stat Pack: Zajac had 1 goal and 2 assists in his eight-game stint from Dec. 16-Jan. 2.

Puck Drop: "Ideally, I'd like to play as many games as possible before the playoffs without putting myself in a position where I don't feel right or feel comfortable," Zajac said in the Star-Ledger. "That's the main thing, trying to balance the right time to play.''

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