Pride, youthful enthusiasm, new contracts and job opportunities for next season continue to provide more than enough hop in the Leaf step as they look to make it eight wins in their last ten and seven in their last eight at home when they play host to the Rangers at the ACC tonight.
The situation for the Leafs‘ quest to climb out of the league’s bottom three is this: Edmonton are comfortably in the rear-view at 55 points, eleven behind the Leafs with only eight to go. With 16 points left up for grabs, the Buds need to make up four on the Isles and five on the Canes. A bit further up, Columbus and Tampa Bay sit six ahead while the Panthers lie five ahead with a game in hand. With a little misfortune on the part of two of the above, something along the lines of 12 or 13 points could vault the Leafs all but clear of the Taylor Hall sweepstakes.
These teams meet for third time this season with the Rangers taking both outings by a cumulative score of 11-3. Important to note, however, is that both losses coincided with the Leafs’ disastrous season-opening slump in October as the clubs last met October 17th. The Rangers find themselves in must-win scenarios from here on in as they sit three points back of Boston for the eighth and final post-season seed with a game less to play.
Jonas Gustavsson draws back in between the posts as Ron Wilson rides the hot-hand. Gustavsson, clearly excited after the morning skate to be going head-to-head with compatriot Henrik Lundqvist, is seeking his seventh straight win as he shows promise heading into next season now seemingly adjusted and comfortable in the NHL net.Â Gus has posted a .950 save percentage and 1.29 GAA in his last three starts.
Speaking of promise and excitement for next season, Kessel’s current form of seven goals in his last seven has us all wondering what heights he can reach in a full season in 2010-11. Kessel looks to break the 30-goal plateau tonight in his 63rd appearance of the season. The Rangers have had his number throughout his young career, however, reducing the 22-year-old to a single marker in eleven appearances against. With hisÂ team sitting second last and running out of schedule, Burke has to be ecstatic with Kessel’s play as of late.
Phillionaire will line up alongside Bozak and Kulemin, of course. The trio has given Ron Wilson a consistent go-to offensive option over the last ten or so games, with each member posting a point-a-game or more over the stretch.
Rookie BlueshirtÂ Michael Del Zotto of Stoufville, Ontario is one to watch as he’s been an offensive threat from the blue line as of late, with five points in his last three.
Wayne Primeau and Jeff Finger will sit as healthy scratches.
Tale of the Tape courtesy of NHL.com:
Enjoy the game,