In a matchup with big playoff implications, the Leafs could move ten up on the 10th-placed Carolina Hurricanes with a win in this four-point swing game. A loss in regulation puts the Hurricanes within six with three games in hand.
The Hurricanes are an opponent the Leafs have struggled with in both matchups this season. Their strength down the middle has played a key role as the Staal brothers have featured prominently on the scoresheet in a combined 7-2 win over the two games. Among teams the Leafs have played more than once, the Canes are the only opponent they have gained zero points off of.
The Canes were able to shut down the Leafs’ high-powered offense in their first two but will not have Cam Ward or Dan Ellis available in net this time around. Ward, who stopped 41 of 42 in the Canes win at the ACC in early February, remains out with a sprained MCL while second-string Dan Ellis, who stopped 22 of 23 in the Canes’ 3-1 win over the Leafs in Raleigh in mid-February, went down last game with a leg laceration. Third string Justin Peters will start for the Canes with recently-recalled fourth-string John Muse on the bench in the backup role. Peters is 2-3-0 with a 3.00 goals against average and a .903 save percentage.
The Hurricanes are 3-6-1 since Cam Ward went down to injury and have lost three consecutive – vs. the Panthers, Devils and Jets – by scores of 4-1. The Leafs have picked up at least a point in their last six consecutive while the Canes have not won in their last half-dozen.
In terms of lineup notes, Clarke MacArthur remains out with his upper body injury. James Reimer returns to the net for the Leafs. James van Riemsdyk is expected to start on a line with Kadri and Kulemin, while Lupul sticks with Bozak and Kessel after scoring two goals in the second period shortly after re-joining the pair on the top unit. The practice lines had Jay McClement returning to Grabovski’s wing alongside Matt Frattin, and Ryan Hamilton down on the fourth with Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. John-Michael Liles has recovered from his ankle injury and is considered a game-time “coach’s” decision.
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