When these two teams last met two months ago, the Hurricanes trailed the Maple Leafs by two points in the standings after a 6-10-2 start.

A 14-9-6 record since has the Hurricanes seven points ahead of the Leafs and within striking distance of the playoffs, currently three points out of the second wildcard spot. A top-five team according to the possession proxies, the Hurricanes have been a good puck possession team undermined by poor percentages since Bill Peters took over the bench in 2014, but they’ve fought their way into the playoff mix just past the halfway point of the 2015-16 season.

The Eric Staal rumours have cooled off somewhat, but the question of his future still looms large in Carolina. Peters recently heaped significant praise on his captain, but there is the matter of his expiring contract. His $8.25 million AAV makes him a tough cap fit for a contender if the Canes went the trade route before February 29. There is also the consideration of a potential playoff push for an organization that’s been drawing from the league credit facility after six consecutive seasons out of the playoffs. Staal prefers to play out his career in Carolina from all indications, but there is the question of contract demands for a player that’s undelivered production wise the past two seasons, complicated further by an uncertain ownership situation.

“He’s a good player, boy. Six-foot-four centreman who makes plays, can play the wing,” Peters said. “Teams need that, and this team needs that.”

Staal recently had a stretch of ten points in eleven games, but is pointless in his last three.

Starting goaltender notes: Phil Kessel concussed Cam Ward with his wrist shot, so Eddie Lack will start tonight for the Carolina Hurricanes, who are on three days rest after losing 5-0 to the Penguins on Sunday.

James Reimer starts for the Leafs, currently managing a winning record and the second-best save percentage in the League despite playing on the 29th-placed team. With the trade deadline five weeks away, the subject of Reimer’s (and Bernier’s) future lingers, ever present in the background. With Bernier on the books and Reimer due up for a contract, do the Leafs — potentially — want two goalies making $4+ million each on the team next season? Keeping in mind Babcock is traditionally anti-goalie platoon (1A/1B), it’s a question that’s far from clear cut.

Carolina Hurricanes Projected Lines

Kris Versteeg – Eric Staal – Elias Lindholm
Joakim Nordstrom – Jordan Staal – Andrej Nestrasil
Jeff Skinner – Victor Rask – Phillip Di Giuseppe
Brad Malone – Jay McClement – Nathan Gerbe

John-Michael Liles – Justin Faulk
Noah Hanifin – Ron Hainsey
Michal Jordan – Jaccob Slavin

Eddie Lack
Daniel Altshuller

Injured: James Wisniewski (ACL), Brett Pesce (lower body), Cam Ward (concussion)
Scratched: Riley Nash

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

Shawn Matthias – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Joffrey Lupul – Peter Holland – Brad Boyes
Daniel Winnik – Byron Froese – Rich Clune

Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Martin Marincin – Roman Polak

James Reimer
Jonathan Bernier

Injured: James van Riemsdyk (foot), Nick Spaling (upper body), Stephane Robidas (lower body)
Scratched: Frank Corrado, Josh Leivo

Mike Babcock Game Day

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