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Hurricanes back to the ice to face Maple Leafs

by Brian Hunter

MAPLE LEAFS (21-18-5) at HURRICANES (18-16-9)


Last 10: Toronto 4-4-2; Carolina 5-3-2

Season series: This is the third and final game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina has split a pair in Toronto, using a three-goal third period to rally for a 3-2 win on Oct. 17 and losing 5-2 on Dec. 29 as Phil Kessel scored twice for the Maple Leafs.

Big story: With four consecutive wins, not only are the Hurricanes knocking on the door of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth, they're closing in on second place in the Metropolitan Division. A regulation win Thursday would also move them into a tie with the Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: The new year got off to a fast start for Toronto with its electrifying 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings in the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. But returning home to the Air Canada Centre brought the Maple Leafs a pair of losses to the New York Rangers and New York Islanders by a 12-4 aggregate score.

Now the Leafs hit the road for two games in two nights, a trip to Washington on the agenda for Friday. James Reimer figures to get at least one start with Jonathan Bernier having allowed nine goals on his past 56 shots (.839 save percentage). But the goaltending isn't the only issue.

"We've got to get a lot more aggressive," coach Randy Carlyle said in the Toronto Star, "to be the tenacious Toronto Maple Leafs that I expect."

Hurricanes: At this point Carolina probably would prefer to play every other day and keep its momentum going, but the elements conspired to give the Hurricanes some extra time off as their game Tuesday at the Buffalo Sabres had to be postponed due to severe weather conditions.

"We just told our [players], 'Hey, there are so many things that go on in a season as pro athletes and you've always got to keep your focus,'" coach Kirk Muller said in the Raleigh Observer. "You're always being challenged."

Just as goalie Cam Ward has landed back on the shelf with an injury, Anton Khudobin has returned off a lengthy absence and won three consecutive starts, stopping 107 of 113 shots (.947 save percentage). He's 5-0-0 in six appearances this season. The Hurricanes also recalled forward Elias Lindholm on Wednesday.

Who's hot: Tyler Bozak has three goals and eight assists during an eight-game point streak for the Maple Leafs. Joffrey Lupul has goals in consecutive games. … Jeff Skinner has six goals and four assists during a five-game point streak for the Hurricanes. Alexander Semin has three goals and five assists in his past seven games.

Injury report: Toronto defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and forward David Clarkson (foot) were out of the lineup Tuesday and are day-to-day. Forwards Dave Bolland (ankle) and Trevor Smith (hand) are on injured reserve. … Carolina forward Eric Staal (lower body) missed the past game and will likely miss a couple more. Ward (lower body) and forwards Riley Nash (lower body) and Jiri Tlusty (appendectomy) are on injured reserve.

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