Thrashers-Maple Leafs Preview
GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (24-25-6) at Toronto Maple Leafs (26-23-5).
TIME: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
The Toronto Maple Leafs begin an important stretch of games leading up to the Olympic break when they host an Atlanta Thrashers team they've dominated of late.
The Maple Leafs are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, just one point ahead of Montreal, two in front of Boston and three ahead of Atlanta.
"We're looking ahead," Toronto left wing Darcy Tucker said. "We're trying to move up the standings as much as possible. We have some games before the break, and we need to win them all."
After this contest, the Maple Leafs play a home-and-home series against the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers before the Olympic break.
The Maple Leafs have won six straight against Atlanta, including three games this season by a combined 18-2 score. Toronto coach Pat Quinn, though, is not taking the Thrashers lightly.
"We really have to be ready to play Atlanta," he said. "(They're) one of the clubs we're jockeying with for a playoff spot. That's not where we want to end up focusing, but that's where it has to be for the next little while."
Toronto won for just the second time in 12 games Saturday, a 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Alexei Ponikarovsky scored twice in a three-goal first period and Ed Belfour finished with 36 saves for the Maple Leafs.
"Eddie certainly gave us a chance to win," Toronto's Mats Sundin said.
The Maple Leafs will need another strong effort from Belfour as they deal with injuries to their defense. Toronto will be without defensemen Ken Klee (ankle), Aki Berg (ribs), Alexander Khavanov (foot) and Carlo Colaiacovo (concussion).
Atlanta ended a season-high seven-game losing streak Saturday with a 6-4 win over the Florida Panthers. Ilya Kovalchuk scored his league-leading 36th goal, his first in six games, and veteran Peter Bondra scored twice.
Bondra's goals were his first in six games since returning from a groin injury that caused him to miss 22 contests.
"Ilya's goal was a big goal as well as an important goal," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "We need everyone's contribution. We have a traffic jam in our conference for the playoffs, and every point will be important."
Marc Savard set a career high with his 24th goal in Saturday's win. He has four goals and an assist in his last six games against the Maple Leafs.
STANDINGS: Thrashers - 54 points, 3rd place, 26 PB, Southeast Division. Maple Leafs - 57 points, 3rd place, 20 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 36 goals; Savard, 46 assists; Kovalchuk and Savard, 70 points; Andy Sutton, 104 PIM. Maple Leafs - Tucker, 21 goals; Jason Allison and Tomas Kaberle, 37 assists; Bryan McCabe, 50 points; McCabe and Klee, 64 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Thrashers - Power play: 19.6 percent (74 for 377), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 78.9 percent (276 for 350), 28th. Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.5 percent (69 for 337), 4th. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (273 for 338), 22nd.
GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Kari Lehtonen (7-8-0, 1 SO, 3.03 GAA); Mike Dunham (4-4-1, 1, 2.79). Maple Leafs - Belfour (20-18-3, 3.35); Mikael Tellqvist (6-5-2, 1, 2.79).
SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 1; Maple Leafs, 4-0. At Atlanta, Tellqvist made 28 saves for his first career shutout and Tucker scored twice for Toronto. Atlanta went 0-for-8 on the power play.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 10-14-2 on the road; Maple Leafs - 16-9-2 at home.