Outstanding team defense and Andrew Raycroft's goaltending have resulted in a season-high five-game winning streak for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Continuing that run in Nashville, though, will be a difficult challenge.
The surging Maple Leafs look to complete a perfect five-game road trip Thursday when they visit the Predators, who are seeking a franchise-record eighth straight home victory.
Despite winning five straight and seven of its last eight games, Toronto (27-21-6) remains on the outside of the playoff picture, sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference.
The five-game streak is Toronto's longest since a six-game run Dec. 23-Jan. 2, 2006.
Raycroft had another strong performance Tuesday, making 19 saves as the Leafs won their fourth in a row on the road, 2-1 over St. Louis. During his personal five-game winning streak, Raycroft has stopped 141 of 147 shots for a .959 save percentage.
"We're still going uphill," said Raycroft, who has started the last 15 games for the Leafs. "This was a perfect example of us not having our best, but finding a way to grind out a win. We're playing so well defensively that we can play less than our absolute best and still get wins. It's a good sign for the stretch."
After beating a non-playoff team with only 16 shots on goal, Toronto captain Mats Sundin knows a similar performance won't be good enough against the Predators (37-15-3), who lead the West with 77 points.
"We have to play a lot better against Nashville," Sundin said. "You look at the standings and we realize that even though we're on a good streak, it's no time to relax."
Sundin assisted on Alexei Ponikarovsky's first-period goal Tuesday to extend his points streak to five games. The captain has three goals and three assists during the run, which coincides with Toronto's current winning streak.
On the season, the Maple Leafs are 20-8-2 when Sundin records at least one point, and just 7-13-4 in other games.
The Predators were unable to slow down streaking Pittsburgh Tuesday, allowing four unanswered goals and seven power plays en route to a 4-1 loss, Nashville's third defeat in the last four games.
"We just were in the penalty box too much, it's tough to get into the flow of things," said center Scott Nichol, who scored the Predators' only goal of the contest.
Tuesday's defeat marked only the eighth time in 55 games this season that the Predators were held under two goals. They bounced back to score three or more in the following game on six of the previous seven occasions.
Nashville continues to play excellent hockey at home, though, outscoring opponents 28-12 during its current seven-game home winning streak.
This is the first meeting between these teams since a 2-1 Leafs victory at Toronto on Jan. 6, 2004. The Maple Leafs also won their only previous visit to Nashville, 3-2 on Jan. 17, 2002.