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NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Saturday, February 8th (All times Eastern)
Vancouver Canucks (27-23-9) at Toronto Maple Leafs (31-22-6), 6 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The free-falling Vancouver Canucks have one last chance to end a lengthy slide before the Olympic break, as they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday in the final day of NHL action before the 2014 Sochi Games.
The Canucks have lost six straight games in regulation, marking the first time the club has suffered through an 0-6 stretch since March 13-25, 1999. Vancouver last lost seven straight in regulation during the same season, going 0-7 from Dec. 26-Jan. 6 during the 1998-99 campaign.
Vancouver hasn't had a seven-game slide of any kind since an eight-game losing streak (0-5-3) from Jan. 9-31, 2009.
The current slide began while head coach John Tortorella was serving a 15-day suspension, but the return of the fiery bench boss has done little to change things. Vancouver has lost three straight since the coach finished his league- mandated ban for trying to start in altercation with Calgary head coach Bob Hartley on Jan. 18.
The slide has dropped Vancouver out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference, as Phoenix took over possession of the conference's final playoff berth with a win over Chicago on Friday. The Canucks are one point in back of the Coyotes in ninth place.
Phoenix visits Dallas on Saturday. The Stars are one point behind Vancouver in the West's 10th spot.
The Canucks have scored a total of three goals since Tortorella's return and two of those markers came in Thursday's 5-2 loss in Montreal. Max Pacioretty registered a hat trick to lead the Canadiens to the lopsided home win at the Bell Centre.
Chris Higgins and Alexander Edler scored one goal apiece for the Canucks, while Roberto Luongo allowed four goals on 28 shots in the setback.
Vancouver trailed 2-0 after the first period, but was able to cut the deficit to one after Higgins scored a power-play goal at 2:31 of the second. The score remained 2-1 until Pacioretty notched his second marker of the game at 4:45 of the third.
"Their third goal was off a puck just sitting there and that surprised a lot of people around the net. That hurt us, we needed to tie the game up," said Tortorella.
Vancouver is closing a five-game road trip on Saturday and the club is just 13-14-4 as the visiting team this season. The Canucks will open their post- Olympic schedule on a three-game homestand, beginning with a matchup against St. Louis on Feb. 26.
The Canucks won't have captain Henrik Sedin tonight and the Swedish star will also miss the upcoming Olympic tournament in Sochi due to bruised ribs. Defenseman Dan Hamhuis also may miss a third straight game on Saturday with an upper-body injury.
Vancouver has one thing going in its favor on Saturday and that is the club's recent dominance over the Maple Leafs. The Canucks have won 11 straight in the series since Toronto last picked up a victory on Nov. 24, 2003 at Air Canada Centre. Vancouver has claimed five straight on the road since the Leafs won that meeting over a decade ago.
The Canucks earned a 4-0 win over a visiting Toronto club on Nov. 2 of this season as Luongo stopped 21 shots to record the shutout. Luongo is 14-6-0 with a 2.27 goals against average in his career against the Leafs.
While Vancouver attempts to halt an epic slide on Saturday, the Maple Leafs will try to head into the Olympic break by winning for the fifth time in six outings.
Toronto, which currently occupies the seventh seed in the East, rebounded from Tuesday's 4-1 loss at Florida by winning by the same score Thursday evening in Tampa. The Leafs scored three times in the third period to back a 31-save performance from Jonathan Bernier in the win over the Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Jay McClement, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak all lit the lamp during the final frame, with Phil Kessel assisting on two of the tallies to help the Leafs to a fourth win in five games.
"Outside of the first 10 minutes I thought we played a pretty solid game," Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle remarked. "We gave up some chances but we created some chances with our forecheck."
The Maple Leafs are four points ahead of eighth-seeded Detroit in the East and Carlyle's club also is tied for third place in the Atlantic Division with Montreal. However, the Canadiens, who are visiting Carolina on Saturday, hold the tiebreaker over Toronto due to having played on less game so far this season.
The top three teams in each division earn automatic bids to the postseason.
Toronto enters Saturday on a six-game home winning streak and the club hasn't lost at Air Canada Centre since Jan. 7 against the New York Islanders. The Leafs, who will visit the Islanders on Feb. 27 in their first game after the Olympics, boast a 20-10-1 record on home ice this season.
02/08 16:02:16 ET