13 days ago these two teams met in Toilet Bowl I and the Leafs emerged victorious on the back of some great goaltending by Jonas Gustavsson and a game-winning goal by Jason Blake. A fortnight later and the two teams are ready to reprise their roles as neither one has been able to shed the anchor that has tethered them to the depths of the NHL standings.
Paul Branecky does provide the Leafs some good news in the form of players that will not be killing them tonight:
Even with off-season signing coup Mike Komisarek on injured reserve, Toronto is the healthier team compared to Carolina, which will be without Joni Pitkanen, Scott Walker and Michael Leighton in addition to star players Eric Staal and Cam Ward.
For some reason the Mother Corporation uses the Associated Press for game previews. Absolutely criminal:
The Leafs have scored a tepid two goals in each of their four consecutive defeats, but have found an offensive bright spot in Phil Kessel.
General manager Brian Burke's big pre-season acquisition has points in six consecutive games, beginning with an assist on the winning goal at Carolina two weeks ago.
Kessel had two goals and three assists in the Bruins' seven-game conference semifinal loss to the Hurricanes during last spring's playoffs.
Carolina and Toronto both have issues in net: They're the only teams to have allowed 70 goals this season.
The NHL.com stat pack has a depressing statistic:
Toronto has allowed 24 first-period goals, the most in the NHL, and has been down 2-0 in 10 of 19 games
That is atrocious. There is no other word. Just kidding, there are many other words: pathetic, the aforementioned pathetic, terrible, vomit-inducing, and feel free to add your own.
Canes Country lets us know that the Leafs will once again have a chance to make a goalie with a sub-.900sv% look amazing as Manny Legace is likely to get the start. They are dealing with their own depression as the Eastern Conference Finalists suffer from injuries, regression, and rotgut from too much bathtub gin:
The Leafs were expected to be in this position as most recognized this would be a rebuilding year for them. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, were projected by many to be a playoff team. But the Canes have been a huge disappointment and have only won a single game in regulation all season long.
Now, I figured that the Leafs need something special to get them over the hump. Sure, it could be better goaltending, better concentration in the defensive zone, better finishing, or ridiculous amounts of luck but why not a motivational speech. To fire up the troops, Bill Pullman (Best.President.Ever) has agreed to re-enact his famous speech prior to the united attack against the Aliens in Independence Day. While some would have the Leafs gutted and thrown on the trash bin of lost playoff hopes Billy will have none of that:
Good evening. In less than three hours, players from here will join others from around the world. And you will be a launching the largest invasion of mediocre hockey players in the current history of Leafs RAUP.
Leafs RAUP-- that word should have new meaning for all of us today.
We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore.
We will be united in our common interests.
Perhaps its fate that today is the 19th of November, and you will once again be fighting for the playoffs, not for the division, bragging rights, or to avoid last place in the entire damn league -- but for the right to play into the Spring.
You're playing for the right to challenge for the Cup, to be champions.
And should you win the day, the 19th of November will no longer be known as the day after the one-week anniversary of Remembrance Day but as the day when the Leafs declared in one voice:
"We will not go quietly into the night!
We will not vanish without a fight!
We're going to move on!
We're going to the playoffs!"
Today, you start your march to the playoffs!