Leafs aiming to raise 'Cane

Goalie Andrew Raycroft takes a break during Maple Leafs practice at the Air Canada Centre on...

Goalie Andrew Raycroft takes a break during Maple Leafs practice at the Air Canada Centre on Monday. (Sun Media/Alex Urosevic)

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

The Maple Leafs, trying to squeak in the playoffs and slake a Stanley Cup thirst of 40 years, must beat a team determined not to let its own drought go beyond 12 months.

But if ever there was a time for the Carolina Hurricanes to hold Cup rings aloft for some "shazam!", it's tonight at the Air Canada Centre. This is a game with some swing power in the packed Eastern Conference standings.

"You can't help but watch what some of the teams in the eighth place race have been doing and Toronto had two great games (splitting) with Buffalo," Canes' forward Eric Staal said yesterday in phone interview. "I think there's a lot of respect among both teams.

"This has been a different kind of year for us. We had a certain style we played last year (earning them 112 points at the Southeast Division's top seed). This year has been a lot harder and we've had some injuries, but we have done better the last few weeks.

"But once you get in, anything can happen as a team such as Edmonton showed last year."

The Leafs are partly responsible for making the Canes a more humble team, beating them twice at home this season. But the irony isn't lost on Leafs' coach Paul Maurice that he'll need to beat the club that fired him in 2003 for a third time to make the playoffs.

"We've had some interesting dates," Maurice said with a chuckle. "The anniversary of my firing (Dec. 15) we were in there and the day of my birthday (Jan. 30) we were in there. We'll have to come up with something interesting (tonight)."

For now, that's Maurice's 750th game as an NHL coach. But as wobbly as the Leafs have been in recfent days, losing to the Capitals, getting a point in Montreal, beating the Devils and rallying in Game 2 of the Buffalo series, the Canes have been a more solid 6-3-1 in their past 10 and winners of three straight.

"They look like the team that was rolling last year," Maurice observed. "Their attack is just fantastic. They're going to be all we can handle. The San Jose and New Jersey games they played showed them back in the form they were last year."

.Starting tonight, the Leafs will play every second day until the regular season ends on April 7. Goaltender Andrew Raycroft was asked to guess how many times 'biggest game of the year' has been tossed his way in a scrum.

"We have to be up above 50 for sure and with two weeks left we're definitely pushing 75," he responded with a laugh.

"The bottom line is that we're two points out of eighth, with a game in hand on a few teams."


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