Staring down a six-game stretch heading into the Olympic break, the Maple Leafs gathered as a group and discussed the importance of yielding as many points as possible out of a pair of match-ups with the Panthers and Lightning as well as games against the Senators and Canucks. Already with four wins out of five, a victory on Saturday night against Vancouver would make it mission accomplished.
"We want to end this part of the year off on a winning note," said Dion Phaneuf after the team took part in an off-ice workout on Friday. "We talked about it two weeks ago, how we wanted to get as many points as possible to set ourselves up going into the break in a good position."
Despite the Leafs rolling to a 10-2-1 record in their last 13 games, a playoff position is still far from secured though. On Jan. 12, the day they beat the Devils 3-2 in a shootout to begin this impressive stretch, the Leafs sat two points out of a Wild Card spot. As of Feb. 7, they sit with a five-point Wild Card cushion and have gained ten points on the Montreal Canadiens to draw even at 68 points. Though still with 23 games remaining, Toronto is nowhere close to a position where they can ease up on their effort.
"I don't think any team wants to give away any points," said Carl Gunnarsson. "We're in kind of a tight spot too. We really need the points."
So too do the Canucks who have struggled mightily of late, losing six straight games and posting a dismal 4-12-2 record since the turn of the calendar to see their six-point Wild Card cushion evaporate to just one.
That doesn't, however, mean the Leafs are taking anything for granted.
"When you're playing a team that hasn't had as much success as they'd like, they're going to want to end their pre-Olympic break on the right note," Phaneuf said. "We're expecting a push out of them."
How hard the Canucks can push though is the question, since they are missing Henrik Sedin, Kevin Bieksa, Dan Hamhuis, Chris Tanev, Andrew Alberts, Mike Santorelli and Yannick Weber to various injuries and ailments.
"Quite honestly, I've never been through so many injuries at one time in all the years that I've coached," said head coach John Tortorella after putting his team through practice at the MasterCard Center on Friday. "I don't want to paint this as 'Woe is me and we're getting all the bad breaks', we have to find a way to get out of it. I think we have in the past three games regained our structure and hopefully it'll get things going our way tomorrow."
Outscored 23-10 during their six-game skid, an inspired performance from both Daniel Sedin and Roberto Luongo would be most welcomed by the Canucks. Sedin has not scored in 2014 and has just five assists in the 18 games he has played since the turn of the calendar. Luongo meanwhile has lost his last four starts, posting an ugly 3.50 GAA and .881 save percentage.
With their playoff cushion all but evaporated, the Canucks no longer have time to slowly work their way out of this slump. They need points, and fast.
"I think a win is the top priority," Luongo insisted. "I don't want to sit here and make excuses, injuries are part of every team in the NHL, and everybody goes through it. You still have to find a way to accumulate points. That being said, we're missing a lot of guys but sometimes it's little things and then all of a sudden it snowballs into bigger things and next thing you know, you don't realize it but you're in a six-game losing streak."