The Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to put themselves in a better position to compete for an Eastern Conference wildcard spot, as they take on the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday. The Leafs and Canes are tied with 72 points, but Toronto is in third place in the Atlantic Division, while Carolina is within three points of third-place Philadelphia, two points in back of the New York Islanders and one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Toronto bounced back from a bad road loss in Pittsburgh with perhaps their best effort of the season in a spirited 4-0 victory over the Pens on Thursday, but have to maintain a level of consistency and effort to continue to compile points over the final 20 games to make the playoffs.
"You look at the teams like (Pittsburgh) and Washington, that they just have that championship culture, kind of built around their team already and that's through years and years of adversity and experience." Auston Matthews said on Saturday morning. "That's obviously what we're trying to build here and you're going to go through ups and downs, but for us, we want to continue to build (on) that and have that consistency where every night and every year there (are) no nights like we had the other night in Pittsburgh."
The Canes lost 5-2 to the New York Rangers in Raleigh on Friday with Petr Mrazek in goal, which likely means that former Leaf James Reimer will go in goal for Carolina in the second of back-to-back games. Toronto will go with Frederik Andersen for the third straight game and head coach Sheldon Keefe indicated that the club will make no lineup changes, which means rookie Rasmus Sandin will pair up with Tyson Barrie, Martin Marincin will play on the bottom pairing with Travis Dermott, and that Frederik Gauthier will play on the fourth line with Jason Spezza and Kyle Clifford.
The speculation of potential trades is ramping up in advance of Monday’s 3pm trade deadline and Leafs defenseman Tyson Barrie’s name is being mentioned with greater frequency. Toronto GM Kyle Dubas could be looking to move the pending unrestricted free agent, but only if he can acquire a right-handed defenseman in return or a package of assets that can be swapped for a player who can replace Barrie in the lineup.
"(The trade deadline is) a little different (in Toronto). I skyrocketed to #5 on the (TSN) trade bait (list). It happens quick, but it's nothing I haven't haven't dealt with before." Barrie said regarding the recent speculation. "I love it here, I love the guys and we want to try to be a team that does something special this year. I'd obviously like to be around for that, (but) it's out of my control."
A Barrie trade would have to fit perfectly for Dubas to occur. Injured defenseman Morgan Rielly is not expected back until mid-March at the earliest, which would mean that rookie Rasmus Sandin would have to take over as the point man on the #1 power-play unit if Barrie is traded.
The Athletic’s James Mirtle mentioned the possibility of Barrie being swapped in deals for other pending free agents (Calgary UFA TJ Brodie, Vancouver RFA Troy Stecher) and blueliners with term remaining (Edmonton’s Adam Larsson and former Leaf Jake Gardiner).
Former Sabre Zach Bogosian is expected to clear waivers and become an unrestricted free agent after having his contract terminated by Buffalo on Friday. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that the veteran blueliner will likely wait until Monday to decide where he wants to play for the remainder of the season and that the Leafs, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Winnipeg are among the teams interested.
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