Saturday, March 5, 2011
Some strong play of late has propelled the Chicago Blackhawks back into playoff position.
Also playing well, the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to follow a similar path.
The visiting Blackhawks look to extend their season-high winning streak to eight games Saturday night and continue their recent success against the Maple Leafs, who have not lost in regulation in three weeks.
Two weeks ago, Chicago (36-23-6) had lost seven of 10 and was on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. Faced with the possibility of missing the postseason less than a year after winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks have averaged 4.3 goals during their run to move up to fourth in the West.
Captain Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are two big reasons why the Blackhawks are in position to win eight in a row for the first time since Nov. 9-25, 2009.
Toews, who scored 55 seconds into Friday's 5-2 win over Carolina, has goals in four consecutive games, scoring six times with two assists over that span. He has seven goals and seven assists during an eight-game point streak.
Hossa, who added two assists Friday, has five goals with four assists in six consecutive games.
Chicago avoided another third-period collapse by scoring three goals in the final 20 minutes against the Hurricanes. The Blackhawks have been outscored 74-65 in the third period this season.
"It was nice to finish strong," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "It was something we've been talking about for a while, keeping the foot on the gas."
Beginning a four-game trip against East opponents, the Blackhawks look for their sixth consecutive win over Toronto. Chicago is 7-3-0 against the East this season.
Keith had a goal with an assist in Chicago's 3-2 home win over the Maple Leafs on Nov. 13, 2009.
Though the Blackhawks have not lost to Toronto since Feb. 12, 2003, the Maple Leafs (29-27-9) are 6-0-3 since losing 3-0 at Montreal on Feb. 12.
"All these games are desperate right now and were looking for points everywhere we can," forward Darryl Boyce said.
Nikolai Kulemin and Dion Phaneuf each had a goal with an assist as Toronto rallied for a 3-2 win at East-leading Philadelphia on Thursday in its ninth straight one-goal contest.
The Maple Leafs, 10-2-4 since the All-Star break, are 10th in the East and four points behind the Hurricanes for the eighth and final playoff spot.
"I think it's a little surprising to see them play this well down the stretch here," said former Maple Leaf and current Flyers forward Kris Versteeg, who played with Chicago last season. "Here's a team that really not much was expected from them. They've really showed the league that they're not going anywhere, and that they're forcing other teams to respect them."
Though Toronto has averaged 2.9 goals its last nine games, it's only given up 2.6 during that span. Rookie James Reimer has thrived during that stretch, going 6-0-2 with a 2.13 goals-against average.
"He's just keeping us in every game and we are trying to reward him the best we can," Boyce said.
Phil Kessel, who has eight goals with seven assists his last 12 games, scored twice in last season's loss to Chicago.
Toronto has been outscored 15-9 while losing three straight at home to the Blackhawks since a 4-1 win on Dec. 1, 2001.
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