RALEIGH, NC - The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to shake off a pair of losses and will try to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff picture when they head south tonight to face the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Leafs hold the second wild-card spot and could be bumped out tonight by the Washington Capitals, who are also in action and sit one point behind Toronto.
James Reimer will start for the first time since Dec. 21 against the Hurricanes. He has a 4-1-1 career record against Carolina with a .927 save percentage.
The Maple Leafs' last win -- it's third in a row -- came against Detroit in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, but Randy Carlyle's team has been outscored by a combined 12-4 margin in consecutive losses since its triumph in Ann Arbor.
After getting embarrassed in a 7-1 home loss Saturday against the New York Rangers, the Maple Leafs suffered a 5-3 defeat Tuesday against the visiting New York Islanders. Toronto was tied with the Islanders at 2-2 after 40 minutes, but Frans Nielsen, Calvin de Haan and Cal Clutterbuck registered third-period scores to lead the visitors to a win at Air Canada Centre.
Tyler Bozak, Mason Raymond and Joffrey Lupul scored for the Maple Leafs, while Jonathan Bernier allowed four goals on 24 shots in defeat.
"We did some good things, but it seemed like we were climbing a mountain," Carlyle said. "Every time we got things back to even, we couldn't push it over the mountain. I thought we played passive; we were afraid to make a mistake."
Carlyle hopes to get his troops in order during a brief two-game road trip that also features a game tomorrow evening against the Capitals. However, Toronto has done most of his damage on home ice this season, going 14-10-1 at Air Canada Centre and 7-8-4 everywhere else.
The Leafs and 'Canes have split a pair of meetings so far in 2013-14, but Thursday's season-series finale is the first encounter in Raleigh. Carolina has claimed five of seven overall in this matchup and Toronto has lost three in a row and five of its past six games at PNC Arena.
Tonight's game marks the first meeting since the clubs were involved in a trade last week. Carolina acquired defenseman John-Michael Liles from the Leafs in exchange for defenseman Tim Gleason.
Liles has no points in three games with the Carolina, while Gleason failed to reach the scoresheet in his debut with Toronto on Tuesday.
A blizzard in Buffalo led to the postponement of Carolina's game on Tuesday against the Sabres, and so far no make-up date has been announced. Despite the bad weather, the Hurricanes were able to fly back to Raleigh on Wednesday and hope to earn a third straight win on home ice.
The Hurricanes won their fourth game in a row on Sunday, notching a 2-1 regulation win over the visiting Nashville Predators. The winning streak is the club's longest of the season, but Carolina hasn't won five straight tilts since a seven-game winning streak from Feb. 5-March 4, 2010.
Each of Carolina's wins during its current hot streak have come by one-goal margins, including Sunday's close decision against the Predators. Jeff Skinner once again played a major role in the outcome, as he scored the game-winner with 3:31 remaining in the third period to lift the Hurricanes to victory.
Skinner, who assisted on Carolina's other goal on Sunday, recently was named the NHL's First Star for the week ending Jan. 5. He led all NHLers during that time period with six goals and nine points over four games. Skinner has 20 goals and 33 points in 32 games this season.
Alexander Semin had a goal and an assist on Sunday, while Tuomo Ruutu chipped in with a pair of helpers. Anton Khudobin made 31 saves in the win to earn the victory and improved Carolina's home record this season to 9-8-5.
Captain Eric Staal missed Sunday's test due to a lower-body injury and is expected to sit out on Thursday as well. No. 1 goaltender Cam Ward is also dealing with a lower-body issue and he is expected to be out of the lineup for a fourth straight contest.
The Hurricanes will have forward Elias Lindholm back, however, as the 19-year- old rookie returns after being allowed to represent Team Sweden at the recent World Junior Championships. Lindholm, the fifth overall pick of last summer's NHL Entry Draft, had nine points on two goals and seven assists in six games during the tournament in Malmo, Sweden and helped his country win a silver medal.
Lindholm has three goals and four assists in 21 games this season.