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Behind Enemy Lines: Maple Leafs in a Battle for the Playoffs

The Leafs come to town just one point out of the playoffs, locked in a battle with the New York Islanders for the final spot.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Maple Leafs come into town tonight off of back to back wins against the Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings. The Leafs are just one point behind the New York Islanders for the final wild card position in the East, and just two points behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division.

The Leafs had a rough stretch to finish out February and open March. During the five-game stretch from February 23 to March 3, the Leafs were winless, albeit with three overtime losses. This opened the door for the Islanders to make a run for the final wild card position.

For the Leafs, three is the magic number. When the Leafs struggled it was because they were unable to score. In their five-game losing streak, they scored two points or less in each of their losses. In both of their recent wins, they scored more than two goals.

The Key for the Hurricanes is how the second line can match up against the line of Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri, and Connor Brown. The last time these two teams met Brown scored two goals, and Jake Gardiner on the second pairing combined for three goals. In that game Jeff Skinner, Teuvo Teravainen, and Victor Rask struggled going -3, -2, and -2 respectively.

The big weakness for Toronto is their defense. The bottom pairing of Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak will have the Canes forwards salavating. The third pairing has a 48.0 cf% which is bottom two on the team for regular players.

On top of this Jake Gardiner will be playing with Alexey Marchenko who is only playing his eighth game of the season with the Leafs. Marchenko has struggled with a 44.4 cf% and has brought down Gardiner’s play as of late. The Canes are playing Skinner-Rask-Lindholm and Teravainen-Ryan-Stempniak on their second and third lines respectively which could lead to some mismatches for the Leafs.

Game Notes:

  • The Carolina Hurricanes have won four of the last five season series against the Maple Leafs since the 2011-2012 season. This season the Canes are 1-1-0 and need this win to take the 2016-2017 season series.
  • William Nylander scored his ninth power play goal on Thursday, which ties a Leafs rookie record.
  • The Leafs three rookies are on fire. Auston Matthews (31g, 24a), Mitch Marner (16g, 37a), and Nylander (18g, 29a) all rank in the top four in points and top five in goals for rookies.
  • Former Canes draft pick Frederik Andersen is 2-1-0 with a 3.02 GAA in four career games against Carolina. Curtis McElhinney is 2-3-1 with a 2.83 GAA and one shutout in seven career appearances against the Hurricanes.