A pair of teams on the verge of being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention will meet tonight, as the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Carolina Hurricanes at Air Canada Centre.
The Hurricanes and Maple Leafs are each nine points out of a playoff spot with just six games remaining in the regular season. Toronto is headed for a seventh straight season without playoffs, while Carolina will miss out for a third straight year.
After winning four straight from March 15-21, the Hurricanes have lost consecutive games in regulation to begin a three-game road trip. Carolina's most recent setback came Saturday in Detroit, as the Red Wings overcame a 4-1 second-period deficit to post a 5-4 victory.
Jiri Tlusty had two goals for the Hurricanes, while Cam Ward made 45 saves in the loss. Chad LaRose and Jamie McBain also scored for Carolina.
"It's disappointing," LaRose said about the loss. "We didn't take care of our lead when we had the opportunity and it cost us."
Carolina, which will play two straight and three of its next four games on home ice, is just 11-18-9 as the road club this season.
The Maple Leafs have lost three of their last four games, but Toronto went 1-0-1 over the weekend, posting a 4-3 shootout win Friday in New Jersey before losing a 4-3 shootout decision the following night against the visiting New York Rangers. Ryan Callahan scored the winner for the Rangers in the shootout phase on Saturday.
Joey Crabb had a goal and an assist for Toronto. Cody Franson and Tim Connolly also scored in Saturday's setback, while David Steckel had a pair of assists and Jonas Gustavsson made 30 saves.
"I thought our team, in general, played one of the better games that we've played in awhile," said Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. "(We weren't) too reckless with the puck, our execution was higher, our compete level was higher. We battled."
Saturday's tilt marked the start of a four-game homestand for the Leafs, who are just 16-14-7 at the ACC this season. Toronto will also welcome Philadelphia and Buffalo during this residency.
Leafs forward Clark MacArthur is questionable with an upper-body injury after sitting out the last two games. Winger Matt Frattin has also sat out the last two games with a lower-body issue.
Tonight marks the fourth and final encounter between Carolina and Toronto this season. The three previous meetings were all decided by one goal and the Hurricanes claimed two of those matchups. Carolina has taken seven of 10 in this series overall, but Toronto has claimed the last two encounters on its home ice.