It certainly seems as though the Toronto Maple Leafs made a collective New Year's resolution of ending the franchise's longest playoff drought ever.
The Leafs look to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference standings this evening and match their longest win streak of the campaign as they battle the offensively-challenged Winnipeg Jets for the final time this regular season.
Toronto has yet to qualify for the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout, with its six-year absence marking the longest ever for the Original Six franchise. However, the Maple Leafs' current three-game win streak and string of six consecutive contests with a point (5-0-1) has pushed the club into the seventh spot in the East with 62 points, one ahead of the Senators and one back of the sixth-place Devils, who visit the conference-leading Rangers tonight.
After getting consecutive shutouts from goaltender James Reimer to kick off this win streak, the Maple Leafs turned up the offense last night in a 6-3 win over the visiting Oilers. Reimer saw his shutout streak end just 21 seconds into the game, but settled down to make 27 saves and help Toronto improve to 10-4-1 since the start of the calendar year. That includes a season-high four- game win streak from Jan. 3-10.
Toronto has pulled within six points of first-place Boston in the Northeast Division as well, but isn't looking ahead of itself.
"There's not a whole lot of scoreboard watching on our part," said Leafs head coach Ron Wilson about his club, which vaulted over the idle Sens in the standings with the win. "We just try to take care of our own business and worry about ourselves."
Phil Kessel scored twice and added an assist for his second straight three- point game. The forward is tied for second in the NHL with 29 goals and third with 57 points. He reached the 300 career point mark in last night's win, as did captain Dion Phaneuf thanks to a pair of assists.
Having relocated from Atlanta to Winnipeg this previous offseason, the Jets have enjoyed their time at home this year as evidenced with a 15-8-2 mark. However, the franchise is just 9-16-4 away from its new home and returns to Winnipeg this evening following a 2-4-0 road trip.
The Jets were shut out twice on the swing, including Sunday's 3-0 defeat in Montreal. Ondrej Pavelec gave up three goals on 23 shots for Winnipeg, which did not score more than two goals in any game on the trip. That left more than a few Jets discouraged, including leading-scorer Blake Wheeler, who picked up a career-high seven penalty minutes versus the Canadiens that included just his second ever fighting major.
"Just overall it's been frustrating. We can't score goals," said Wheeler. "Our goalie was phenomenal again tonight and when you lose 3-0, what can you say? It's not like it was 3-2 where we had a chance to win the game."
The Jets failed to score a power-play goal on the trip, going 0-for-15. Playing a seventh straight game without concussed forward Evander Kane, who leads the club with 18 goals, hasn't helped a Winnipeg team that sits 10th in the East and five points out of first place in the Southeast Division.
Tonight's matchup with the Leafs won't help the Jets break out of their season-high funk on the man advantage. Toronto has gone 15 straight games without allowing a power-play goal, the longest such streak in the league since the Chicago Blackhawks went 19 straight games without giving up a power- play goal in 1969-70.
Toronto is a perfect 22-for-22 over its current run, which is its longest for the franchise since 1940-41.
The Maple Leafs have sandwiched a pair of home wins around a 3-2 setback to the Jets in Winnipeg on Dec. 31. Toronto notched a 4-0 win in the previous meeting on Jan. 5 behind a 24-save effort by Jonas Gustavsson, one of seven shutouts suffered by Winnipeg this year.
Kessel has three goals and two assists in the three meetings.