As the Toronto Maple Leafs try to end one major drought that dates to before the NHL lockout, they can address another run of futility that has lasted just as long.
It won’t be easy, however, for the Leafs to enter a hostile atmosphere Saturday and snap a nine-game losing streak to the Vancouver Canucks, who haven’t lost in regulation in more than a month.
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Toronto (29-23-6) hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004, but coach Ron Wilson’s club has a chance to finally bring postseason hockey back to Canada’s largest city as it clings to eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
The hockey-crazed nation’s most successful franchise lately has been Vancouver, which has showed in this matchup. The Canucks have outscored Toronto 38-19 while winning each meeting since a 2-1 road defeat Nov. 24, 2003.
“The Leafs have always been a team I hated as a kid,” Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows said after scoring the game-winner in a 5-3 victory at Toronto on Dec. 17. “I know a lot of fans in Vancouver don’t like this team. … It just makes it extra special.”
The Canucks (36-15-6) haven’t discriminated – they’ve been tough on every opponent for the last several weeks, going 8-0-3 in their last 11. Seven of those games have gone to shootouts, but they finally escaped with a regulation win Wednesday over Colorado.
David Booth scored for the third straight game and Jannik Hansen broke a tie with a third-period tally before Burrows’ empty-netter sealed the 3-1 victory.
“We get off a little earlier than normal,” Hansen said. “It’s nice to only have to play 60 (minutes).”
Fantasy notes: Phil Kessel had 1 G, 1 A the last time he squared off against the Canucks. Daniel Sedin had a goal against the Leafs in his last tilt and has 16 points in 18 GP lifetime. | Follow Chris
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The Leafs needed more than that Wednesday in Edmonton, but they were simply happy to get a 4-3 victory and snap a four-game losing streak.
Tim Connolly scored 1:39 into overtime – his first goal in 18 games – as Toronto won despite squandering a 2-0 lead it had built 1:38 into the first period.
“We’ve been in a little bit of a rut,” Connolly said, “and to come out and battle in a game like that where it’s going back and forth, and really grind it out and get the win is a huge two points for us.”
Wilson, however, is wary because the Leafs’ previous win also came against the Oilers, 6-3 at home Feb. 6. The coach said Edmonton’s uptempo style may have been partly responsible for getting Toronto, which was outscored 16-5 during its slide, out of whack.
“That’s the way Edmonton plays. It actually set us off on this little losing skid, I think,” Wilson said. “You get into a flow that’s going back and forth, and sometimes when you get some free looks like we were getting, you forget about playing in your own end.”
The Leafs will certainly have to be sharp defensively against one of the league’s most prolific clubs, and their impressive run of success on the penalty kill might be tested.
Opponents have scored once in 34 power-play chances over 20 games since the start of 2012 after a dreadful start to the season for the unit. Vancouver, though, leads the league at 22.1 percent with the man advantage despite its current 2-for-23 stretch.
The Canucks had only one power-play chance – failing to convert – at Toronto earlier this season, but they’re 12 for 50 (24.0 percent) during the winning streak in the series.