Islanders-Maple Leafs Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 20, 2012
The New York Islanders may be all but mathematically assured of finishing in last place again, but the Toronto Maple Leafs' latest march to the end of the season has taken a humiliating turn. The Leafs will try to rebound from their most lopsided defeat in four years by sweeping the season series from the Islanders on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto (32-33-8) has shown promise at times this season, and seemed to be in contention for its first playoff berth since 2004 until collapsing with a 4-14-2 stretch over the last six weeks. The early part of that dreadful run prompted the firing of coach Ron Wilson, and the Leafs were 3-4-1 in their first eight games under Randy Carlyle. But things got a lot worse with Monday's 8-0 loss at Boston, as Toronto managed just 13 shots in its most lopsided defeat since losing by the same score at home to Florida on Feb. 5, 2008. If the Southeast Division-leading Panthers hang onto a playoff spot, the Leafs will be all but certain to have the NHL's longest active postseason drought. "One mistake after another," Carlyle said Monday. "It seemed like we were playing in our boots and they were playing in their skates." Goaltending remains a major concern, and it's unclear whether James Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson will get the call Tuesday. Reimer was pulled after allowing four goals on nine shots in 12:42 of play Monday, while Gustavsson was somewhat better while stopping 11 of 15 attempts. The performance was a dramatic drop for Reimer, who had won the previous two games while saving 63 of 65 shots. Gustavsson is 1-6-3 with a 3.17 goals-against average in his last 13 games - 10 starts. "Goaltending falls right in line with the rest of our team," Carlyle said. "They didn't play to the level that was required. ... Your goaltender has to give you a chance, but your team has to help your goaltender and give him a chance." Both Reimer and Gustavsson, however, have found some success against the Islanders (29-32-11) as Toronto has won all three meetings this season. Reimer is 3-0-1 against them for his career, making 30 saves in a 5-3 road victory Dec. 23. Gustavsson backstopped the other two wins in a sweep of a home-and-home set Jan. 23-24. That started with a 25-save effort in a 3-0 victory at the Air Canada Centre. Phil Kessel found the net in that meeting, giving him four goals in five matchups in Toronto. The right wing is one goal shy of matching his career high of 36 set with Boston in 2008-09, but he's scored just once in his last six games and mustered two shots in a season-low 15:07 on Monday. While the Leafs are trying to salvage some dignity from their final nine games, the Islanders know a fifth consecutive last-place finish in the Atlantic Division is all but certain. Despite the bleak outlook, New York is trying to build on Saturday's 3-2 shootout win at Montreal, the team it's tied with at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. John Tavares will try to pull the Islanders out of the conference cellar after being held without a point by the Canadiens. The All-Star center had five goals and two assists in his previous four games, giving him career highs of 31 and 39, respectively. A Leafs fan while growing up in the Toronto suburbs, Tavares has six goals and two assists in 11 career meetings with them.
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