The Toronto Maple Leafs (23-26-5) own the New Jersey Devils (20-30-4) at the Air Canada Centre. The Devils will look to break a three-game road losing streak to the Maple Leafs tonight and continue their chase for a playoff spot.
Both teams enter the game on hot streaks. After struggling to a 1-5-1 record before the All-Star break, Toronto turned around their play. They are 4-1-0 in their last five games, averaging 3.6 goals per game. The streak put them only eight points away from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The past month turned the Devils season around. Since January 8, New Jersey is 10-1-2 and is making an unlikely push toward the playoffs. They remain 15 points away from the eighth seed in the conference.
Tonight’s game also holds historical significance. Devils coach Jacques Lemaire can join an elite group of coaches with his 600th career win. In 1,234 career regular season games, Lemaire holds a 599-449-186 record. He’s 11-8-2 since becoming the interim coach of the Devils.
“Regardless of how you feel about the game or anything like that, on some level you have to feel a sense of pride that you get to a number like that,” left-winger Brian Rolston told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. It’s definitely an accomplishment. I think he just enjoys the daily basis of coaching and teaching. That’s the most important thing and the wins come along with that.”
Winning number 600 won’t be easy. The Maple Leafs are 7-1-2 against the Devils since the beginning of the 2008-2009 season. They’ve allowed two goals while winning the last three meetings at the Air Canada Centre.
Lemaire’s 559th win came with some late drama, as the Devils defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, in overtime Tuesday night. Canes rookie Jeff Skinner put Carolina ahead, 2-1, with his second goal of the game at 8:37 of the final period. With Anton Volchenkov in the box, Eric Staal blasted a one-timer from the point that hit Andy Greene skates. Skinner, in front of the net, collected the loose puck and slid it past Johan Hedberg for the goal.
The Devils rookies would lead the comeback effort. Nick Palmieri tied the game, 2-2, with just 2:54 left in regulation. Ilya Kovalchuk shot a puck from the right circle that Cam Ward stopped. Palmieri collected the rebound and lifted it over the Canes goalie for his fifth goal of the season.
Mattias Tedenby would send the Devils home victorious in overtime. Travis Zajac collected a loose puck and skated it through the neutral zone. He left a drop pass for Tedenby, who carried the puck into the slot. The rookie’s wrist shot snuck between Ward’s blocker and right side for the game-winning goal.
Joffery Lupul is expected to make his debut tonight for the Maple Leafs. Toronto acquired the right-winger from Anaheim Wednesday for defenseman Francois Beauchemin.
The Devils will be without Anton Volchenkov, who was suspended three games by the league for elbowing Carolina’s Zach Boychuk in the head.