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Leafs hope to avoid 6th straight loss in clash with Blues
(SportsNetwork.com) - With a playoff spot hanging in the balance, the Toronto Maple Leafs desperately need to put an end to their worst drought of the season.
Toronto hopes to end a string of five straight losses when it hosts the playoff-bound St. Louis Blues in Tuesday's battle at Air Canada Centre.
The Maple Leafs have matched their longest losing streak of the season, but while the club was able to record two points during an 0-3-2 stretch from Nov. 25-Dec. 3, the current slide has come with five consecutive regulation setbacks.
As a result, Toronto enters Tuesday tied with Detroit for the Eastern Conference's two wild card spots. Meanwhile, Washington is just one point behind and Columbus is a mere two points in back of the Leafs and Red Wings. All four teams play this evening, with Detroit visiting Columbus and the Capitals hosting Los Angeles.
Making matters worse for Toronto, the club only has nine games left on its regular season schedule. That gives Detroit and the Blue Jackets two games in hand over the Leafs, while Washington has one.
The Maple Leafs also have fallen seven points behind Montreal and Tampa Bay, who are tied for the last two of the Atlantic Division's three automatic playoff bids.
The Blues, meanwhile, have already clinched a playoff spot out West and they enter Tuesday with a six-point lead over Chicago for the Central Division title. St. Louis also is two ahead of San Jose for the conference lead and trails Boston by one point for the best record in the NHL.
Toronto hopes to have No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Bernier back from a groin injury tonight. All five of the club's losses on its current skid have come with backup James Reimer as the starter, but Bernier has been skating and figures to be a game-time decision for Tuesday.
"It's too early to say if I'm coming back (Tuesday)," Bernier said. "I don't want to rush and be out another four or five days."
Reimer was pulled from Sunday's 3-2 loss in New Jersey after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Drew MacIntyre entered the game early in the second period and made 14 saves the rest of the way.
MacIntyre, a 30-year-old journeyman, made his fifth NHL appearance and first since Nov. 25, 2011.
Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak supplied the goals for the Maple Leafs, who last dropped six in a row from Feb. 18-29, 2012.
"We have to come together as a team and battle," Bozak said.
Toronto hopes to get back on track with a stretch of home games coming up. The Leafs will play five of their next six as the host before ending the regular season on a three-game road trip.
The Leafs are 22-13-1 at home this season and 14-16-7 on the road.
In addition to Bernier, Toronto also could get defenseman Paul Ranger back tonight. Ranger has missed the last two games with a neck injury.
St. Louis will try to earn a split of a four-game road trip on Tuesday. The Blues opened the swing with losses in Chicago and Philadelphia before notching a 1-0 win Sunday at Pittsburgh.
Brian Elliott stopped all 33 shots he faced as St. Louis turned in a textbook defensive effort to down the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center. Elliott's whitewash was his fourth of the season and his 16th with the franchise, tying him with Hall of Fame netminder Glenn Hall for second on the club's all-time list.
"I saw a lot [of shots]. Obviously, the ones I didn't, the guys were blocking and made big sacrifices in front of me," Elliott said.
David Backes recorded the lone score of the contest for the Blues, who won for the ninth time in 12 March outings.
St. Louis is 23-11-3 as the visiting team this season.
The Blues posted a 6-3 home win against Toronto on Dec. 12, giving the Blues a 4-0-2 record in the last six games of this series. St. Louis had won six straight in Toronto before the Leafs notched a 6-5 shootout win in the last meeting at Air Canada Centre on Jan. 6, 2011.
Ryan Miller will resume his starting role in net for St. Louis on Tuesday. He is 7-2-1 with a 2.03 goals against average since joining the Blues before the trade deadline.
03/25 11:06:35 ET