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Maple Leafs look to end skid vs. West-leading Blues

by Eric Goodman

BLUES (48-16-7) at MAPLE LEAFS (36-29-8)


Last 10: St. Louis 7-2-1; Toronto 4-6-0

Season series: This is the second and final game between these cross-conference teams. The St. Louis Blues defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 on Dec. 12, thanks to a three-goal first period. The Blues are 4-0-2 in the past six games against the Maple Leafs, with the last regulation loss to Toronto occurring on Feb. 6, 2007.

Big story: The Maple Leafs have gone cold at the worst possible time of the season, mired in a five-game losing streak and just barely holding on to the final Stanley Cup Playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Blues did not play Saturday, but became the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth this season with a loss by the Phoenix Coyotes. St. Louis is battling the red-hot Boston Bruins for most points in the League, with hopes of capturing its second Presidents' Trophy in franchise history.

Team Scope:

Blues: St. Louis is 9-2-1 in its past 12 games and is heading to the playoffs for a third consecutive season. The Blues are among the most well-balanced teams in the NHL with an average of 3.1 goals a game, boasting a lineup featuring four players with at least 20 goals, along with a 2.21 goals-against average on the defensive side. But veteran coach Ken Hitchcock insists their strong scoring corps is not the reason they've been so successful.

"You don't control the hockey game with offense, you control it with checking," Hitchcock said following his team's optional practice Monday in Toronto.

Maple Leafs: Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier (groin) was sidelined throughout the five-game losing streak, but he and defenseman Paul Ranger (neck) participated in practice Monday. Bernier was also the first goalie off the ice at the morning skate Tuesday, indicating he's likely to return against the Blues, though coach Randy Carlyle later termed him a game-time decision.

The Maple Leafs surrendered 19 total goals with backup goaltender James Reimer in net for the entire cold stretch, but Bernier said Monday he was not rushing a return to game action. It was hoped Bernier would play at the New Jersey Devils this past Sunday, but he sustained a setback in an intense practice Friday.

"It's too early to say if I'm coming back [Tuesday]," Bernier said. "I don't want to rush and be out another four or five days."

Who's hot: Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz had a goal and two assists in the previous game against Toronto this season. … Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel is in the midst of a three-game point streak with two goals and one assist.

Injury report: Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (hand) is out, while center Derek Roy (lower body) missed the game Sunday and is questionable for Tuesday. … Bernier is a game-time decision while there was no immediate word Tuesday on the status of Ranger.

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