Maple Leafs host Rangers to open key home-and-home set

A pair of Original Six foes will begin an important home- and-home series on Monday when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the New York Rangers at Air Canada Centre.

Toronto is trying to make the postseason for the first time since the spring of 2004 and is currently fifth out of eight playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers, who were the East's top seed heading into the 2012 postseason, are four points behind the Maple Leafs and tied with the rival New York Islanders for the conference's final two playoff berths.

The Blueshirts have a game in hand to use over the idle Islanders on Monday.

New York enters this home-and-home having won three straight and six of its last eight games against the Leafs, including a 5-2 home triumph in the only meeting between the clubs so far this season on Jan. 26.

Although the Rangers have struggled to a 7-9-2 record on the road this season, they have won their last four games in Toronto. The clubs will complete this home-and-home, as well as their season series, in Wednesday's matchup in Manhattan.

New York has gained a point in four straight games and is 3-0-1 over that stretch. The club earned a victory in its last trip to the ice, beating the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, on Saturday behind a strong performance from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 48-of-49 shots in the road triumph.

Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash all scored during a second-period barrage that allowed Lundqvist's stellar effort to hold up for the win.

Stepan and Nash also notched an assist to support a season-high in saves from Lundqvist. Ryane Clowe also added a helper to give him two goals and two assists in three games since coming to New York in a trade with San Jose.

Brian Boyle finished off the victory with an empty-net tally right before the final horn sounded.

"It was a great win, and Hank played great," Boyle remarked. "The big boys made some big plays in the second period. And Hank? He's the King!"

New York had lost three straight on the road before earning the victory in Raleigh.

The Leafs, meanwhile, have won four of their last five games and are coming off Saturday's victory in New Jersey. Tyler Bozak's third-period tally proved to be the difference, as Toronto edged the Devils, 2-1, at Prudential Center.

Leo Komarov also lit the lamp, while James Reimer registered 27 saves for the Leafs, who are two points ahead of idle Ottawa for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Toronto is six points in back of fourth-seeded Boston, which hosts Carolina on Monday.

"It was a big game for us," Reimer remarked. "It kind of feels like a playoff game, so it was good for us to get the win. I thought the boys played great."

Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul sat out Saturday's game with an upper body injury suffered in Thursday's loss to Philadelphia. Lupul, who has 14 points in 10 games during an injury-plagued season, did not travel with the team to New Jersey and his status is day-to-day.

Toronto had won four straight on home ice before losing to the Flyers on Thursday. The Leafs are 10-7-2 as the host this season and are playing three of their next four games at home.