The Maple Leafs leave for Tobacco Road this afternoon, hoping their playoff aspirations don't go up in smoke.
Normally, a five-game trip in late January shouldn't be viewed as a make-or-break endeavour for the entire season but, in the minds of some players, it could well end up being exactly that.
"Given all the teams bunched up in the standings this year, it's obviously tough," goaltender Andrew Raycroft said yesterday.
"But it's just like the playoffs. If you lose, you feel like you might never win. If you're winning, you feel like you might never lose.
"Either way, it's exciting. You always want to be put in the position where every game means so much."
The Leafs head out on the road tied for ninth place with the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings. Both teams have 52 points, two behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The conference is such a tight squeeze that just 12 points separate the fourth- place Ottawa Senators from the 14th-place Florida Panthers entering the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
The Leafs kick off the trip with a visit to the defending Stanley Cup-champion Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow, followed by dates at the Rangers, Ottawa, Nashville and St. Louis. They don't play another home date until Feb. 10 when they face the Pittsburgh Crosbys at the Air Canada Centre.
Being away from the pressures of Toronto isn't such a bad thing for the Leafs, who own one of the better road records in the NHL at 12-9-3.