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Maple Leafs tasked with slowing down Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

BLACKHAWKS (23-6-5) at MAPLE LEAFS (16-14-3)


Last 10: Chicago 7-2-1; Toronto 2-6-2

Season series: This is the final game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Chicago beat Toronto 3-1 on Oct. 19 at United Center.

Big story: The Blackhawks erased the effects of a three-game winless skid by winning three straight games in style, blowing out the Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers in succession. The Maple Leafs have lost three straight and need to stack some wins to hang onto their playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Team Scope:

Blackhawks: Chicago is making it look like no big deal to have two goaltenders injured. Corey Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin are out with lower-body injuries, but Finnish rookie Antti Raanta is filling in admirably, and the Blackhawks' offense has put the pedal to the metal.

They've scored at least one power-play goal in seven straight games, lead the NHL with 14 games scoring five or more goals, and have 19 goals during their winning streak. The balanced attack has the Blackhawks way out in front of the League in goals scored (129), but captain Jonathan Toews said the focus is at the other end of the ice without Crawford in net.

"If anything, you want to play better defensively," Toews said. "Everyone looks at the last couple games. We had a lot of scoring and it's not going to happen every night. We try to go out there and score goals, but we're also trying to play smart defensively."

Maple Leafs: Toronto was swept in back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues, with the most recent defeat a 6-3 loss at Scottrade Center. Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was pushed to the boiling point watching his team give up too many prime scoring chances to the Blues, who capitalized on enough to make the night miserable for Toronto.

"For our hockey club, tonight looked like we were totally brain-dead in a lot of areas," Carlyle said afterward. "I don't know any other way to describe it. We didn't win enough of the down-low confrontations, they had a lot of freedom … look where they scored the goals from."

The Maple Leafs played those games without defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who will return after serving a two-game suspension for an illegal hit.

Toronto will be without forward David Clarkson, who was suspended for two games because of an illegal check to the head he delivered to St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka on Thursday. Clarkson's absence creates a hole at right wing on their third line that could be filled by Jerry D'Amigo or Carter Ashton.

Who's hot: Chicago forward Patrick Kane has a seven-game point streak (two goals, 12 assists) and forward Patrick Sharp has scored at least one goal in three straight games (four goals, four assists). … Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel has four goals and six assists in the past 10 games.

Injury report: Crawford (lower body), Khabibulin (lower body) and forward Bryan Bickell (knee) are out for the Blackhawks. Bickell practiced Friday but is a week away, at least. … Former Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland (ankle), along with forwards Tyler Bozak (oblique) and Colton Orr (elbow), are on injured reserve for Toronto.

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