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Soaring Jets seek to gain ground on Maple Leafs

by Tal Pinchevsky /

JETS (14-11-2) at MAPLE LEAFS (15-12-1)


Last 10: Winnipeg 7-2-1; Toronto 4-5-1

Season series: This is the third and final matchup this season between two Canadian franchises battling for their first playoff berth in some time. The teams split the previous two matchups, with the Jets topping the Leafs 5-2 on Tuesday in Winnipeg. The Jets held a 3-1-0 advantage in this series last season.

Big story: This game could prove valuable for both teams' playoff fortunes, especially after the Jets' 3-1 win on Thursday placed them in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But while Winnipeg is surging at the right time, the Leafs are looking to right their ship in the hopes of making the postseason.

Team Scope:

Jets: A month ago, the Jets were struggling with a 5-8-1 record and coach Claude Noel was growing visibly frustrated with his troops. But since closing out a difficult 0-3-0 three-game homestand on Feb. 17, the Jets have gone 10-2-1 and taken over the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. That run continued Tuesday night with an emphatic win over the Leafs before the Jets welcomed the New York Rangers to MTS Centre on Thursday.

With eighth place on the line against the Rangers, the Jets surged out of the gate with Nik Antropov opening the scoring less than two minutes into the contest and only 12 seconds after Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto was whistled for cross checking. Ryan Callahan earned the equalizer just 1:11 into the middle period, but Antti Miettinen, playing in just his seventh game of the season, gave Winnipeg the lead later in the period with his first goal of the season.

The Jets took over in the pivotal final frame, outshooting the Rangers 11-7 and getting an empty-netter from captain Andrew Ladd to wrap up a crucial 3-1 victory.

Maple Leafs: Toronto opened up a modest three-game homestand Thursday having lost their previous three games. To make matters worse, they welcomed the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins to Air Canada Centre, where they dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Penguins just five days earlier.

Tyler Bozak opened the scoring midway through the second period with his seventh goal of the season. Still nursing that 1-0 lead more than halfway through the third, the Leafs appeared to be on the verge of snapping their losing skid. Then the League's leading scorer took over.

In the latter half of the final period, Sidney Crosby set up Pascal Dupuis for two goals over a five-minute span, including one that came off a remarkable no-look, behind-the-back pass from the Penguins captain. The Leafs were unable to come back from the sudden surge, as Craig Adams sealed the 3-1 Pittsburgh victory with an empty-net goal.

"It's not all doom and gloom, but it's doom and gloom when you lose the way we lost," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It tears at the fabric of your heart because we're finding a way to lose a game instead of finding a way to win a game."

Who's hot: Ladd has nine points in his last eight contests while Dustin Byfuglien has five points (all assists) in his last two games. … For the Maple Leafs, Phil Kessel is leading the offensive charge with five goals and 10 points in his last six games. His linemate, James van Riemsdyk, has six points in his last seven matches.

Injury report: Goaltender Al Montoya (lower body) is questionable for Saturday's contest and defenseman Tobias Enstrom (shoulder) has been skating with a no-contact jersey, but he remains on injured reserve alongside Jim Slater (upper body), Zach Redmond (leg) and Anthony Peluso (hand). … The Maple Leafs' lone injury is forward Joffrey Lupul (arm), who was cleared for contact Friday and is a possibility to return for this game.

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