The league’s fourth ranked team, the Toronto Maple Leafs (we beat Boston in something!), host the New Jersey tonight seeking to snuff out their dwindling playoff hopes by completing the season series sweep over the Devils.
Settling for a comfortable playoff position cannot be the approach if you’re Carlyle’s Leafs. The goal has to be to try to chase down home ice advantage for round one, or at the very least to finish strong headed into the playoffs. There is a definite advantage for teams who are playing at a playoff level with playoff intensity already by the time game 1 of the Quarterfinals rolls around. Winning games like this one against desperate teams will help keep the Leafs confident and battle ready for the big dance.
That said, the Leafs are in a fortunate position when it comes to Joffrey Lupul’s injury situation insofar as he can take his time and wait until he’s 110% ready. James Reimer will get some relief in the remaining back-to-back sets, but it’s important to keep him him in the starting routine and rolling along at a high level headed into the playoffs. It sounds like Reimer will get the start again tonight. Lupul will be a game time decision.
The Leafs enter tonight winners of 7 of their last 10 (7-1-2) and having collected points in 12 of their last 13. The Devils have not won a game in a whopping nine consecutive outings, collecting four loser points in that span, miring them in a dismal situation as far as their playoff hopes are concerned. They’re 6 back of eighth place, even on games with just seven left to play. The loss of Ilya Kovalchuk to injury has famished the Devils’ offense as they’ve scored just 16 over the 9 games.
The Leafs stole a game in New Jersey last time around, playing large spells of the 60 minutes on their heels. The Leafs have been able to bear down on their chances all season while bending but not breaking as much defensively, but their 2-1 win at the Prudential Center was quite the display of offensive opportunism/fortuity + leaning on your goaltender. A better effort will be needed this time out against a Devils team fighting for their playoff lives.
CONFIRMED DEVILS LINE UP (PER THEIR WHITEBOARD)
Patrik Elias-Travis Zajac-Steve Sullivan
Danius Zubrus-Adam Henrique-David Clarkson
Alex Ponikarovsky-Andrei Loktionov-Matt D’Agostini
Ryan Carter-Stephen Gionta-David Clarkson
Andy Greene-Adam Larsson
Henrik Tallinder-Marek Zidlicky
Peter Harrold-Mark Fayne