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Leafs battle Tavares-less Isles; Sens, Oilers also in action

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The Sports Network
2/27/2014 12:26:35 PM
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The Toronto Maple Leafs hope to pick up where they left off before the Olympic break when they visit the John Tavares-less New York Islanders in Thursday's clash at Nassau Coliseum.

Toronto was one of several NHL teams that had hot streaks interrupted by the NHL's Olympic break. The Maple Leafs had won five of six right before the hiatus and the club is 11-2-1 over its last 14 games.

With 70 points, the Maple Leafs are currently holding on to the seventh of eight playoff spots in the East. Toronto also is just one point in back of both Tampa Bay and Montreal for second place in the Atlantic Division. The top three teams in each division get an automatic bid to the postseason.

Toronto is aiming to qualify for the postseason for the second straight spring. Last season the Leafs halted the longest playoff drought in franchise history by making the postseason for the first time since 2004.

The Maple Leafs emerge from the break with a road-heavy schedule ahead of them over the next few weeks. Toronto, which is just 11-12-5 as the away club this season, will play two straight and eight of its next 10 on the road.

The Islanders, meanwhile, get to continue a five-game homestand on Thursday, but they'll do so without the services of captain and star centerman Tavares.

Tavares helped Team Canada win the Olympic tournament, although he missed the semifinals and gold medal game after suffering a partial tear in the MCL of his left knee. Although the injury was originally feared to be worse, it will still keep Tavares sidelined for the remainder of the regular season. However, he will not need surgery as was originally believed.

The culmination of the regular season could mark the end of the 2013-14 campaign for the Islanders, who are already 14 points out of the East's final playoff berth.

Tavares, who expects to miss 8-to-12 weeks while recovering, is New York's leading scorer with 66 points and is tied for the team lead with 24 goals. He is also third in the NHL in points.

The Islanders lost seven of eight games before the break in a stretch that did serious damage to the club's postseason chances. Without Tavares, the club expects to have a difficult time getting back into the thick of the playoff race.

New York and the Leafs have split two meetings so far in 2013-14, but the Isles are 4-1-1 over the last six encounters between the clubs. Toronto, however, has won three straight and four of the past five games at the Coliseum.

The Isles are 8-14-8 as the host team this season. The club is playing the third test of its five-game homestand tonight and will complete the stay on Long Island after welcoming New Jersey and Florida on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Detroit Red Wings at Ottawa Senators

The 2013-14 season has largely been a disappointing one for the Ottawa Senators so far, but the club hopes to start anew when it begins the post-Olympics schedule with Thursday's home tilt against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Senators, a playoff team in each of the past two seasons, are only three points behind Detroit for the last postseason berth in the Eastern Conference, but Ottawa has struggled with consistency in 2013-14.

Ottawa posted a 9-2-3 record during one of its best stretches of the season from Dec. 28-Jan. 30, but the club then went 2-2-1 to begin the month of February. The Sens also ended their pre-Olympics slate by losing 7-2 to the Boston Bruins on Feb. 8.

The Sens have one game at home before jetting off to Vancouver, where it will play an outdoor game against the Canucks on Saturday. The game at BC Place, which features a retractable roof, kicks off a four-game road trip for Ottawa.

Star defenseman Erik Karlsson is coming off an Olympic run that saw him help Team Sweden pick up a silver medal at the recent Sochi Games, and he is eager to aid the Senators in the push to the playoffs.

"I'm looking forward to start playing hockey here again," Karlsson told the Senators official website. "It feels like the vibe is good in the room and we're looking forward to the last stretch here."

Karlsson was a teammate of former Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson at the Olympics and his countryman will play his third career game against Ottawa on Thursday. Alfredsson spent his first 17 NHL seasons with the Senators before leaving to sign with Detroit over the summer.

Alfredsson, who was greeted with a standing ovation by the Ottawa crowd when he returned to Scotiabank Place on Dec. 1, has one goal and one assist in his two games against the Senators this season.

On the injury front, Ottawa forward Clarke MacArthur and defenseman Chris Phillips headed into the Olympic break with injuries, but both players are expected to be ready to go for Thursday's game.

Ottawa is 2-1-0 against the Red Wings this season, but Detroit has won five of the last seven meetings against the Senators overall. The Wings have won three straight, four of five and six of the past eight meetings at Scotiabank Place.

The Red Wings earned a victory in their first game after the break, downing the Montreal Canadiens in overtime on Wednesday. Gustav Nyquist scored with just 27.3 seconds remaining in the extra session to help lift Detroit to the 2-1 road win.

Detroit allowed the Canadiens to tie the game on Brian Gionta's goal with just 28.7 seconds left in regulation but recovered to win the tilt in OT.

Johan Franzen, returning from a concussion that sidelined him for 22 of Detroit's final 23 contests prior to the stoppage, assisted on Nyquist's game- winner as well as Todd Bertuzzi's first-period power-play goal. Jimmy Howard stopped 19-of-20 shots to help the Red Wings improve to 4-1-1 over their last six outings.

"We played a great game. We didn't give them much room," said Franzen.

Detroit is playing the third test of a four-game road trip that began before the Olympics. The Red Wings, who are 16-9-4 as the guest this season, will cap the swing Tuesday in New Jersey.

Minnesota Wild at Edmonton Oilers

The Minnesota Wild hope to maintain a firm grasp on a playoff spot as they visit the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night, when both clubs return to action following the Olympic break.

The Wild come out of the hiatus a distant 10 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for third place in the Central Division, but with a five-point edge for one of the two wild card spots in the Western Conference.

Minnesota won its final two games before the Olympic break and is 4-1-2 in its last seven games.

While Zach Parise and Ryan Suter return from a disappointing showing by Team USA in Sochi, Russia, Mikael Granlund had a solid performance to help Finland win bronze.

Granlund, who turned 22 on Wednesday, had three goals and seven points during the Olympics, getting named to the All-Tournament team.

"You can tell that they've been playing at a high speed over there, and I expect them to step right in where they left off," Wild coach Mike Yeo told his team's website of his three Olympians.

Minnesota is looking to get healthy for the stretch run and is close to getting forward Mikko Koivu back from a right ankle injury that required surgery. He suffered a break blocking a shot on Jan. 4 and was unable to play for Team Finland.

Koivu may return tonight or Friday versus the Vancouver Canucks.

Goaltender Niklas Backstrom, meanwhile, has been out since Jan. 30 because of a strained abdominal, but could suit up tonight. If not, John Curry would serve as the backup to Darcy Kuemper.

Backstrom is 25-4-1 with a 1.91 goals against average and four shutouts in his career versus the Oilers, while Kuemper has faced them once before. That came this season, a 4-1 home victory on Jan. 16 in which he made 20 saves.

Minnesota has won five of six and 14 of its last 17 versus the Oilers, including two straight and seven of eight in Edmonton.

With the playoffs about out of reach, the Oilers are looking to finish strong ahead of next season. They are last in the Western Conference with 47 points, 18 out of a playoff spot and five ahead of Buffalo for the fewest in the NHL.

Edmonton did win five of seven before the break and kick off a five-game homestand tonight.

One thing to watch for the Oilers is the situation in net, where the clubs have a pair of upcoming free agents in Ilya Bryzgalov and Ben Scrivens. Bryzgalov signed with Edmonton during the season, while Scrivens was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings.

Head coach Dallas Eakins is looking for both to play well and is unsure of how the starts will be split between the two.

"It's hard to say. I don't have a crystal ball next to me so it'll depend on their play," said Eakins. "It may come down to if Ben plays well and Bryz is playing well, yeah we may give Ben a couple of extra starts. I think Bryz would understand that. Or, we might split it down the middle. I won't know until we get started here."

Bryzgalov is 7-8-0 with a 2.64 GAA in his career versus the Wild, while Scrivens faced Minnesota for the first time in his career when he made his Oilers debut on Jan. 16 . He took that 4-1 loss, giving up four goals on 33 shots.

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Western Conference

(1) COL 2, (WC) MIN 0 (1) ANA 2, (WC) DAL 0
(2) STL 2, (3) CHI 0 (2) SJ 1, (3) LA 0


Eastern Conference

(1) BOS 0, (WC) DET 1 (1) PIT 1, (WC) CLB 1
(2) TAM 0, (3) MON 2 (2) NYR 1, (3) PHI 1


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