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Leafs need more road points as they visit Avs

by Eric Goodman
MAPLE LEAFS (33-31-10) at AVALANCHE (28-36-8)


Last 10 --
Toronto 5-4-1; Colorado 2-7-1

Season series -- This is the only meeting between these clubs this season. The Avalanche won 4-1 at Toronto in the teams' only game last season.

Big story -- With only eight games left on their schedule, the Maple Leafs (76 points) are holding on to a slim shot at the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To get there, the Leafs will aim to sweep their current three-game road trip with stops remaining in Colorado on Thursday and concluding on Saturday against the Red Wings in Detroit. After that, Toronto returns home on March 29 to take on the Buffalo Sabres, who currently sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 81 points. Meanwhile, the Avalanche are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, so they will try and dampen Toronto's aspirations for its first postseason berth since the 2003-04 season.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs --
Toronto has been warming up with two consecutive wins and victories in three of its last four games, but it will need to continue playing strong if it hopes to jump over both the Carolina Hurricanes (78 points) and Buffalo to claim the last spot in the East this season.

The Leafs will seek to duplicate Tuesday's performance at Minnesota, a 3-0 victory in which rookie goaltender James Reimer earned his third shutout of the season.

"You could just see the energy in our whole team," coach Ron Wilson said of his team's effort. "It wasn't just the goalie. Everybody was on top of things."

Avalanche --
Colorado has managed two straight victories, but going 1-18-2 in the 21 games before those two wins has caused the Avs to fall to 14th place in the Western Conference.

The Avalanche benefitted from some last-second heroics in Tuesday's 5-4 shootout win over Columbus as Daniel Winnik tallied the game-tying goal with just three seconds left in regulation. The win snapped Colorado's franchise-tying eight-game home losing streak.

"We have to play the role of spoiler right now, and we have to take pride in that," goaltender Brian Elliott said following the game.

Injury report --
Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek (minor groin injury) remains questionable for Thursday's game, while Darryl Boyce hasn't returned from an upper body injury suffered Saturday against the Boston Bruins. Forwards Colton Orr (concussion) and Colby Armstrong (broken foot) are still out for the Leafs. … For the Avs, veteran defenseman Adam Foote is sidelined with a leg injury.

Who's hot -- For Toronto, Reimer has won his last three starts overall and is 7-0-1 in his last eight road games. The rookie goalie is also an impressive 11-3-4 in his last 18 decisions. Also, his .925 save percentage puts Reimer in a tie for third in the League behind the Bruins' Tim Thomas and the Predators' Pekka Rinne. … Center Matt Duchene scored twice for the Avs on Tuesday and is in the midst of a five-game points streak with 4 goals and 4 assists over that span.

Stat pack --
The Avalanche have struggled to keep the puck out of the net this season as they are last in the NHL with an average of 3.51 goals against per game. If that number remains by season's end, it would be the highest average of goals against per game since the Philadelphia Flyers posted a 3.62 average during the 2006-07 season.

Puck drop --
If the Leafs are to have any chance at making the playoffs, it's important to wrap up their brief road swing with four more points in their back pockets. Anything less will put them in a very deep hole, even though they will play the rival Sabres upon their return to Air Canada Centre. At this point, it looks like Wilson will need to ride the hot goalie Reimer the rest of the way to have the best chance at slipping into the East's eighth and final playoff spot.

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