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Slumping Maple Leafs host struggling Red Wings

by Mike Battaglino

RED WINGS (33-26-14) at MAPLE LEAFS (36-31-8)


Last 10: Detroit 4-5-1; Toronto 2-8-0

Season series: The Detroit Red Wings have won two of three against the Toronto Maple Leafs, splitting shootout victories before winning 3-2 on March 18.

Big story: Toronto lost to the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 Friday, meaning it remains tied with Detroit at 80 points in a four-team logjam for two Eastern Conference wild cards into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's the biggest game of the year," coach Randy Carlyle said.

The Maple Leafs have lost seven in a row and eight of nine, all in regulation.

"We just have to play a desperate brand of hockey," forward James van Riemsdyk said. "Obviously, we know what's ahead of us here and how big this game is. We're fighting with these guys right there in the standings. So we can win this and kind of kick-start ourselves and go on a little run."

Team Scope:

Red Wings: Some line juggling against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday wound up with forward Darren Helm, recently returned from a concussion, on a line with Johan Franzen and red-hot Gustav Nyquist. They combined for the final goal in a 5-4 loss.

"We didn't play very good, so we changed things during the game," coach Mike Babcock told The Detroit News after practice Friday. "We're just going to stay with what we finished (in line combinations)."

That means David Legwand will move to the third line with Daniel Alfredsson and Joakim Andersson. Legwand was minus-3 Thursday, is minus-6 in his past three games and minus-8 since arriving in a trade from the Nashville Predators. Legwand has two goals and five assists in 12 games with Detroit since March 6.

"He's been good; I didn't think he was great [Thursday], but he was with some other veteran guys that weren't good either," Babcock said.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard will make his ninth straight start.

Maple Leafs: Toronto has scored the first goal once in its nine-game funk. On Friday, Philadelphia took a 1-0 lead seconds after beating Dion Phaneuf on a 5-on-3 faceoff, the first taken by the defenseman in the NHL.

"It doesn't feel like we're getting some of the bounces that you need to win games," van Riemsdyk told the Maple Leafs website. "It seems like every time we do something the wrong way we end up in the box, or maybe a ticky-tack call that ends up in our net. We have to stick with it here; we know there's still seven games left and we're going to have to go from there."

Carlyle said he believes the solution is simple.

"If we regroup and tidy up the turnover situation," he said. "We have to win more 1-on-1 battles for the puck. We're not strong enough on the puck in those areas. Those are the things at this juncture in the season, it's imperative we win those battles, and right now we're not winning enough of them."

Toronto has played two more games than Detroit, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals.

Goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who made 25 saves Friday, has not played on consecutive days since Dec. 11-12. Backup James Reimer has lost five in a row, allowing 18 goals.

Who's hot: Nyquist had a nine-goal, six-game streak end Thursday; he had an assist. Forward Tomas Tatar has six points in a three-game streak. Forward Riley Sheahan has six points in his past five games. … Van Riemsdyk has a goal in two straight games, and is one shy of his first 30-goal season. Defenseman Jake Gardiner has six points in his past six games. Forward Tyler Bozak has five points in his past five. Forward Dave Bolland on Friday scored his first goal since Oct. 26.

Injury report: Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk (knee) skated with the team Friday, the first time since he last played Feb. 27; he will take part in a full practice Tuesday. Forward Stephen Weiss (sports hernia) will skate for a second day in a row Saturday as he tries to return from a 42-game absence. Forward Justin Abdelkader (leg laceration) skated. Forwards Henrik Zetterberg (back), Justin Abdelkader (leg laceration), Daniel Cleary (knee) and Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder), and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (finger fracture) are out. … Maple Leafs defenseman Paul Ranger (concussion) is close to a return.

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