MAPLE LEAFS (18-14-5) at JETS (18-14-5)
Toronto 3-4-3; Winnipeg 6-3-1
Second of four meetings between these Canadian rivals. Toronto finished off a five-game, season-opening homestand with a 4-3 shootout win over Winnipeg on Oct. 19. Joffrey Lupul
scored twice in regulation for the Maple Leafs and had the decisive goal in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.
Beginning play Friday with identical records, the Maple Leafs and Jets also hold down the final two Eastern Conference playoff berths. Finding themselves in the top eight at season's end would be huge for either franchise -- Toronto believes now is the time to end a postseason drought that dates back to 2004, while Winnipeg would complete a storybook first season for hockey's return to Manitoba.
On the one hand, Toronto has not been playing its best hockey of late; however, the Maple Leafs are still picking up points, coming away empty only four times in their last 11 games. But the team comes off a game Thursday in Carolina where it knows it should have had two. Nikolai Kulemin
and Lupul scored third-period goals to give Toronto a 3-1 lead, but Eric Staal answered Lupul's goal just 40 seconds later and the Hurricanes rallied to hand the Leafs a 4-3 defeat on a Staal power-play goal with 1:51 remaining in overtime.
"At least we got the point, but I'm not happy," coach Ron Wilson said. "I'm disappointed in the way that once we got a lead our mental approach wasn't right."
In only the second game at the MTS Centre this season to go beyond regulation, Winnipeg treated the home fans to the first overtime victory for the new Jets when Evander Kane
scored 69 seconds into the extra period for a thrilling 1-0 victory over the Kings. The first 60-minutes had been a goaltending duel between backups Chris Mason
and Jonathan Bernier. In only his ninth game and seventh start this season, the veteran Mason turned aside all 31 shots he faced to win his fourth straight decision.
"Mason was outstanding," coach Claude Noel said. "He battled hard. We've got two good goalies, and that's one of the reasons why we're doing so well."
Lupul (2-2-4) and linemate Phil Kessel
(1-3-4) have four-game points streaks active for the Maple Leafs, while Nazem Kadri
has 3 goals in his last four games, matching his total from his first 33 NHL games. ... Kane has 3 goals in the Jets' last two games and 18 to lead the team, one of his career-best total of last season. Blake Wheeler
, who assisted on his overtime goal Thursday, has 2 goals and 4 assists during a four-game points streak.
Toronto has forwards Mike Brown
(back), Matthew Lombardi (shoulder), Colby Armstrong
(concussion/foot) and Philippe Dupuis
(upper body) and defensemen Mike Komisarek
(arm) and John-Michael Liles
(concussion-like symptoms) on injured reserve. ... Winnipeg forward Bryan Little
(foot) has missed the last five games, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien
(knee) has missed two straight and forward Jim Slater
(rib) is day-to-day after not playing Thursday. Defensemen Derek Meech
(lower body) and Randy Jones
(upper body) are on injured reserve.
While he picked up an assist, Kessel was held without a shot on goal Thursday for the first time in 47 games. ... The only other game the Jets won this season that went beyond regulation was a 4-3 shootout win in Florida on Oct. 31. They are 2-5 in games that last more than 60 minutes (1-3 overtime, 1-2 shootouts).
Friday's game marks not only the end of a four-game road trip for Toronto, but a stretch dating back to the end of November in which Winnipeg played 13 of 15 games on home ice. After the new year the team will embark on its own four-game road trip and play nine of its 13 games in January away from the MTS Centre.