NHL

Kane, Blackhawks look to stay hot vs. Maple Leafs

TORONTO -- Patrick Kane was held to an assist when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Ottawa Senators Thursday night.

It was the 12th assist in the past 18 games for the reigning Hart Trophy winner. More impressive, he has scored 16 goals in that span.

Kane will try to add to those totals Saturday night when the Blackhawks visit the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

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"Hockey is kind of a funny sport like that," Kane said. "You see a lot of guys go through stretches where they're not scoring, then they get really hot. And once you get hot, you just have that good feeling, and confidence is a huge part of this game."

Not so hot has been Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews, the first player taken in the 2016 draft. Matthews did not record a point Thursday night in the Maple Leafs' 5-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and has gone seven straight games without a goal or an assist.

Despite the drought, Matthews has enjoyed a brilliant first season with 32 goals and 24 assists.

"Auston has been -- I don't want to say he's been carrying us all year -- but he has scored a lot of goals for this team," Maple Leafs left winger Matt Martin said. "He's got 30-plus on the season; he has been our catalyst offensively all year. Getting offensive production from other guys when he's not scoring -- I think he's still playing well, the puck's just not going in for him. We've just got to find ways to win and I'm confident he'll get back on track."

Matthews last scored a goal Feb. 28 against the San Jose Sharks and has not had an assist since Feb. 21 against the Winnipeg Jets. The Maple Leafs, however, are 4-2-1 during the slump by the 19-year-old center.

The Maple Leafs (32-23-14) moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with their win Thursday. The Blackhawks (45-20-5) opened a three-point lead over the Minnesota Wild for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and first place in the Central Division with their win Thursday. Slightly more than a month ago, Minnesota led Chicago by nine points.

The Maple Leafs will have a chance to see how the measure against the elite of the NHL.

"It's a big challenge," Martin said. "They are one of the top teams in the league and Patrick Kane is playing as good as he can play right now. He's on fire."

"Obviously, a high-powered team," Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak said. "They've got some of the best players in the game. We've got to be ready, you can't give those guys any room or space or they're going to make plays. It's a big game for us and we'll be ready to go."

"Lots of challenges -- we've got to stay out of the (penalty) box obviously," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "It'll be fun to play them, I look forward to it. I haven't seen them as much as I used to in Detroit, but I'm looking forward to it."

The Blackhawks went with Scott Darling in goal in Ottawa and he stopped 33 shots in his first start since March 1. He has played in five consecutive Chicago wins.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday that No. 1 goaltender Corey Crawford was "a little under the weather."

Darling is accustomed to sporadic playing time.

"It's kind of what I'm used to," he said. "It wasn't too bad. It was actually almost shorter than most gaps in my playing time."

The Blackhawks are without Artem Anisimov, who could be out for the rest of the regular season after suffering a left-foot injury in the win over the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday. The center has a career-best 45 points and has matched his career best with 22 goals.

The Blackhawks have won three games in a row, are 8-2-0 over their past 10 games and 22-11-1 on the road.

"It just shows the consistency and the way we've been playing," Darling said. "Everybody has been doing a great job. Obviously (Anisimov) is out but other than that we've been pretty healthy. ... Everybody is contributing and they're doing it every night. That's a big thing. It's a good time of year to get everybody fired up."

The Maple Leafs are 4-3-3 over their past 10 games and 17-10-6 at home.