A key battle in the Eastern Conference playoff race is on tap Thursday in Toronto, as the Maple Leafs host the New York Islanders at Air Canada Centre.
Neither the Maple Leafs nor the Islanders have qualified for the postseason in quite some time, but both would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. Toronto is in the midst of the longest postseason drought in club history, having missed the playoffs in seven straight seasons since last qualifying in the spring of 2004. The Isles haven't made the playoffs since 2007.
The Maple Leafs have 53 points on the season, placing them fifth in the East, three points ahead of Ottawa and four in back of Montreal. The Isles are in seventh place with 49 points and three ahead of the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets.
Toronto can clinch a playoff spot on Thursday with a win and a regulation loss by the Jets in their game against Carolina.
The Islanders were able to help their postseason chances with a win on Tuesday, while Toronto was handed a lopsided loss on the same night.
New York recorded a 5-2 victory over the visiting Florida Panthers on Tuesday, giving the Isles wins in four of five and nine of their last 12 games. Michael Grabner scored a pair of goals to help the Islanders record the easy, but important win at Nassau Coliseum.
Mark Streit added a goal and an assist and Evgeni Nabokov recorded 26 saves to help the Islanders notch a point for an eighth consecutive game (6-0-2). New York also received goals from Matt Moulson and Radek Martinek in dealing the lowly Panthers a third straight defeat.
"It's a lot of fun to play in these meaningful games at the end of the year," Moulson said. "Each one has been intense, no matter who we're playing. It's been that way for the last three weeks."
It wasn't all good news for the Isles on Tuesday, however, as forward Casey Cizikas left the game with an upper body injury and did not return. Cizikas has six goals and nine assists in 40 games this season and is questionable for tonight.
Tuesday's contest was New York's final home test of the regular season. The Isles, who are 12-5-2 on the road in 2013 compared to a 10-11-3 mark at home, are kicking off a five-game road trip tonight.
The Islanders have won their last two games in Toronto, including a 7-4 victory when the clubs met at Air Canada Centre on Jan. 24. The Maple Leafs have claimed five of the last eight encounters in this series.
Toronto will try to bounce back from Tuesday's 5-1 loss in Washington. The Capitals jumped out to a 4-0 lead by the latter stages of the second period and cruised to the victory.
Mikhail Grabovski's third-period marker was the lone offense for the Maple Leafs. Ben Scrivens, making his first start since March 26, was tagged for all five goals on 37 shots in defeat.
"We weren't very good tonight. We didn't do a lot of things well," said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. "It looked like we had nothing in the tank."
The Leafs lost despite getting forward Joffrey Lupul back on the ice for the first time since April 4. Lupul, who missed five games with a concussion, failed to register a point in 17 minutes and 42 seconds of ice time on Tuesday. He has eight goals and six assists in 11 games during an injury- plagued season.
Toronto is playing its second-to-last home game of the regular season on Thursday. The Leafs, who are 13-7-2 at ACC this season, will play their next three games on the road before completing their schedule with a home test against Montreal on April 27.