Basement battle resumes as Leafs visit Carolina
The Carolina Hurricanes are feeling far better about their chances of escaping the Eastern Conference cellar after earning a point in three straight games.
Four consecutive losses have the Toronto Maple Leafs less optimistic about doing the same.
The loser of Thursday's meeting (7 p.m. ET) will have the title of the NHL's worst team all to themselves as the Maple Leafs visit the Hurricanes for the second time in less than two weeks.
Toronto earned points in seven straight games (3-0-4) from Oct. 26-Nov. 7 after beginning the season 0-7-1, but the days of consistently earning points seem to be over.
The Maple Leafs have been outscored 16-8 in dropping their last four in regulation, most recently letting a third-period lead slip away in a 3-2 loss at Ottawa on Tuesday.
Both Toronto and Carolina have 11 points.
"It's tough. We're definitely working hard and getting chances, but, at the end of the day, we've got to find a way to score one more than the other team," Leafs centre Matt Stajan said.
The Leafs have scored a tepid two goals in each of their four consecutive defeats, but have found an offensive bright spot in Phil Kessel.
General manager Brian Burke's big pre-season acquisition has points in six consecutive games, beginning with an assist on the winning goal at Carolina two weeks ago.
Kessel had two goals and three assists in the Bruins' seven-game conference semifinal loss to the Hurricanes during last spring's playoffs.
Carolina and Toronto both have issues in net: They're the only teams to have allowed 70 goals this season.
Carolina's Cam Ward is out until early December with a leg laceration and Michael Leighton left Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury, prompting the Hurricanes to recall Justin Peters from the AHL.
Manny Legace, who signed a one-year deal Nov. 9 after Ward was injured, should start Thursday. He's a career 3-4-0 with a 3.09 goals-against average against Toronto.
Jonas Gustavsson will likely be back in net for the Leafs after getting pulled in a loss to Calgary on Saturday and sitting in favour of Vesa Toskala at Ottawa. Gustavsson made 34 saves in the win in Raleigh earlier this month.
Carolina (3-12-5) snapped its franchise-record 14-game losing streak with a 5-4 shootout win over Minnesota on Sunday, two days after earning a point for the first time in eight games in an overtime loss to the New York Islanders.
The Hurricanes looked like they were headed for two points again Tuesday in Montreal, but they gave up a late goal and lost 3-2 in a shootout.
"That's the way hockey is," said Brandon Sutter, who has two goals and three assists during Carolina's point streak.
"It's not very often that you get up by a goal and you hold them off all game. We had a chance to go up by a couple, we didn't, and they ended up coming back."
Sutter was called up Oct. 24 to join the team's injury-depleted roster, and the 20-year-old centre has been a big contributor.
He has eight points in his last nine games, including a goal in the 3-2 loss to the Leafs on Nov. 6, and has been centring the top line alongside Ray Whitney and Erik Cole while Eric Staal recovers from an upper-body injury.