MAPLE LEAFS (18-14-4) at HURRICANES (12-20-6)
TV: LEAFS TV, FS-CR (HD)
Toronto 4-4-2; Carolina 4-4-2
The clubs have split the first two of a four-game series with each earning a win on home ice. Toronto and Carolina were even after the 2010-11 season series.
Both the Leafs and Hurricanes have struggled recently, with Toronto losing four of its last six games and Carolina dropping three of its last five. While the Maple Leafs remain firmly embedded in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Hurricanes will need to find a spark quickly or risk falling to last place in the conference.
With coach Ron Wilson receiving a contract extension Monday, general manager Brian Burke sent the message that he is committed to maintaining a veteran presence behind the bench. But if Wilson is to win over the rest of Leafs Nation, he will need to get Toronto back into the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
While the Leafs remained in sixth place in the East as of Wednesday, they didn't help their cause with a 5-3 loss at the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers on Tuesday. Toronto played a very loose game that led to a number of turnovers, as well as two power-play goals by the Panthers. James Reimer
, who leads all goalies in All-Star voting, was chased in the second period after surrendering his third goal on just eight shots.
"(We had) a couple of major mistakes by defense on the second goal and on the last goal," Wilson told reporters after the game. "It happened two times in the game where we made a mental mistake right after we had scored to get ourselves in the game, so we've got to find a way to correct that."
As of Wednesday, Carolina held a slim two-point lead over the last-place New York Islanders in the East but it had also played four more games than New York. If captain Eric Staal
and company are going to right the ship, they will need to get started on a major winning streak real fast.
The Canes appeared to get off on the right foot Tuesday at Pittsburgh as center Tim Brent
staked his team to a 1-0 first-period lead, but four unanswered goals from the Penguins dealt Carolina its fourth straight road loss. The Pens also put 52 shots on goal Tuesday, which kept backup goalie Justin Peters
busy. But a return to RBC Center should do the Canes well, as they seek their third straight win on home ice.
"The first two periods they had a lot of shots and stuff, but I think they were coming from outside mostly," forward Tuomo Ruutu
told reporters after the game. "Our goalie played well, but we were maybe going at 90 percent. You have to have that at 100 percent, especially when you are playing on the road and against a team like Pittsburgh."
Who's Hot: Phil Kessel
continues to pace the Leafs' offense with 1 goal and 2 assists over his current three-game points streak. … Ruutu is in the midst of a six-game points streak for Carolina with 5 goals and 2 assists over that span.
Toronto defenseman John-Michael Liles
is on injured reserve with concussion-like symptoms. … Jeff Skinner
and Joni Pitkanen
both remain out indefinitely with concussions for Carolina.
The special teams for Carolina hasn't been anything to get too excited over, as it is last in the NHL with a 12.4-percent success rate on the power play and second-to-last in the East at 78.5 percent on the penalty kill.
When addressing reporters Monday at the press conference announcing Wilson's contract extension, Burke used the metaphor of his head coach being like a lion tamer that needs the right tools to get the job done.
"It's important for the players to know that the coach isn't going anywhere," Burke said. "When the coach goes into the cage he needs the chair and the whip, not just one."