HURRICANES (28-23-10) at MAPLE LEAFS (20-28-10)
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET; FS-SE, SNO, NHL.TV
TORONTO - The Carolina Hurricanes will continue their push toward the playoffs when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Thursday.
The Hurricanes have 66 points and trail the Pittsburgh Penguins, who hold down the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, by two points. The Hurricanes won 3-1 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday and have victories in four of their past six games.
Carolina coach Bill Peters said the team took a turn for the better following a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 3.
"We had a substandard effort at home against New Jersey and from that point on we are 20-10-6," Peters said. "We called a couple of kids [Phillip Di Giuseppe, Jaccob Slavin] up from the AHL that gave us more pace, the ability to move the puck and made us better."
The Hurricanes now see themselves as a legitimate playoff contender.
"I feel like this group has been playing some real good hockey," center Jordan Staal said. "We have a lot of good things going with a lot of young players, and it has been an exciting time. There's no question we are good enough to make the playoffs. We're in every game, competing for two points every night."
As the Maple Leafs approach the Feb. 29 NHL Trade Deadline with numerous changes having been made and perhaps more on the way, the club has relied on call-ups from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL to round out the roster.
One of them, right wing Josh Leivo, has goals in each of his past three games. He scored in back-to-back games Feb. 9 and 11, missed four games with a lower body injury and then scored against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
Leivo said each goal he scores helps boost his confidence and convinces him he can play in the NHL.
"It helps, but I can't think too much about it or things might change," Leivo said. "I just want to keep it going, so I need to keep playing the way I have been playing. I have always had the confidence that I can play in this league, but when you score, it makes things easier."
Toronto coach Mike Babcock said Leivo needs to work hard in the offseason on his conditioning and to get stronger to play full-time in the NHL. Leivo took those words as a challenge.
"He is pushing me to get better, and I think that is what you want out of your coach," Leivo said. "It's good to hear that stuff. I know I need to get stronger and I am going to push myself this offseason to do that."
Here are the projected lineups:
Kris Versteeg - Eric Staal - Phillip Di Giuseppe
Joakim Nordstrom - Jordan Staal - Andrej Nestrasil
Jeff Skinner - Victor Rask - Elias Lindholm
Chris Terry - Jay McClement - Riley Nash
Jaccob Slavin - Ron Hainsey
John-Michael Liles - Brett Pesce
Noah Hanifin - Michal Jordan
Injured: Justin Faulk (ankle), James Wisniewski (knee).
Scratched: Nathan Gerbe, Brad Malone.
Michael Grabner - Nazem Kadri - Brendan Leipsic
Colin Greening - Mark Arcobello - PA Parenteau
Daniel Winnik - Peter Holland - Brad Boyes
Josh Leivo - Byron Froese - Rich Clune
Viktor Loov - Stuart Percy
Morgan Rielly - Martin Marincin
Jake Gardiner - Frank Corrado
Injured: Stephane Robidas (lower body), Joffrey Lupul (middle body), James van Riemsdyk (foot fracture), Jared Cowen (hip tightness), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Matt Hunwick (lower body).
Suspended: Leo Komarov
Status report: Komarov will serve his final game of a three-game suspension for a check to the head of Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers … Faulk played against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday after missing six games with a lower body injury, but had only 16:51 ice time. He skated Thursday morning, but Peters said Faulk's ankle has not responded to treatment and he will miss the game against Toronto.
Who's hot: Holland has a goal and three points in the past two games … Boyes has a goal and three assists in five games … Kadri recorded two assists in each of the past two games … Jordan Staal is riding a six-game points streak with four goals and eight points in that span … Nordstrom has scored in the past three games and has a four-game points streak.