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Leafs take on Tavares-less Islanders
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Toronto Maple Leafs hope to pick up where they left off before the Olympic break when they visit the John Tavares-less New York Islanders in Thursday's clash at Nassau Coliseum.
Toronto was one of several NHL teams that had hot streaks interrupted by the NHL's Olympic break. The Maple Leafs had won five of six right before the hiatus and the club is 11-2-1 over its last 14 games.
With 70 points, the Maple Leafs are currently holding on to the seventh of eight playoff spots in the East. Toronto also is just one point in back of both Tampa Bay and Montreal for second place in the Atlantic Division. The top three teams in each division get an automatic bid to the postseason.
Toronto is aiming to qualify for the postseason for the second straight spring. Last season the Leafs halted the longest playoff drought in franchise history by making the postseason for the first time since 2004.
The Maple Leafs emerge from the break with a road-heavy schedule ahead of them over the next few weeks. Toronto, which is just 11-12-5 as the away club this season, will play two straight and eight of its next 10 on the road.
The Islanders, meanwhile, get to continue a five-game homestand on Thursday, but they'll do so without the services of captain and star centerman Tavares.
Tavares helped Team Canada win the Olympic tournament, although he missed the semifinals and gold medal game after suffering a partial tear in the MCL of his left knee. Although the injury was originally feared to be worse, it will still keep Tavares sidelined for the remainder of the regular season. However, he will not need surgery as was originally believed.
The culmination of the regular season could mark the end of the 2013-14 campaign for the Islanders, who are already 14 points out of the East's final playoff berth.
Tavares, who expects to miss 8-to-12 weeks while recovering, is New York's leading scorer with 66 points and is tied for the team lead with 24 goals. He is also third in the NHL in points.
The Islanders lost seven of eight games before the break in a stretch that did serious damage to the club's postseason chances. Without Tavares, the club expects to have a difficult time getting back into the thick of the playoff race.
New York and the Leafs have split two meetings so far in 2013-14, but the Isles are 4-1-1 over the last six encounters between the clubs. Toronto, however, has won three straight and four of the past five games at the Coliseum.
The Isles are 8-14-8 as the host team this season. The club is playing the third test of its five-game homestand tonight and will complete the stay on Long Island after welcoming New Jersey and Florida on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
02/27 10:54:47 ET
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