Maple Leafs put dent in Hurricanes’ playoff hopes with 3-1 win
TORONTO – Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau had a goal and an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs put a dent in the Carolina Hurricanes’ playoff hopes, scoring a 3-1 win at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday evening.
Suffering just their seventh loss in regulation since the start of January, Carolina remains two points back of Pittsburgh (while playing three more games) for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Brad Boyes and Josh Leivo also scored for Toronto (21-28-10), while John-Michael Liles recorded the only goal for Carolina (28-24-10).
Jonathan Bernier made 28 saves for the Leafs, winning for the first time since Jan. 6. Cam Ward stopped 25-of-28 shots at the other end.
It was just the fifth victory in the past 21 games for the Leafs, currently the worst team in the Eastern Conference with 52 points.
A potential trade candidate ahead of the Monday deadline, Boyes opened the scoring for Toronto, notching his sixth goal this season on a power play. An unrestricted free agent at season’s end, Boyes has six points in the last seven games.
Liles, a former Leaf, evened the score six minutes after the Boyes goal. His point shot somehow eluded Bernier following a faceoff in the Toronto zone.
Leivo pulled the Leafs back in front less than six minutes into the middle period, the fourth goal in as many games for the 22-year-old forward. Leivo capitalized on a two-on-one rush with Parenteau, depositing the feed from the 32-year-old.
Parenteau, another candidate to be moved in the coming days, added his 16th goal this season late in the third period.
It was a stinging loss for the Hurricanes, scorching in recent months and hoping to score a playoff berth for the first time since 2009.
Carolina entered the night with 46 points since Dec. 5, trailing only the Washington Capitals among Eastern teams in that stretch. The Hurricanes also boast one of the league’s top puck-possession rates this season.
Their surprising success is forcing some difficult questions for general manager Ron Francis ahead of the trade deadline, namely with captain Eric Staal. There’s a chance the 31-year-old could be moved in the coming days, a reality that’s hovered over Staal and the team in recent weeks.
“It’s obviously been a tough time for Eric,” said Jordan Staal, Eric’s younger brother and teammate since the 2012-13 season.
The elder Staal has been a member of the Hurricanes since 2003, playing over 900 regular season games with the club while capturing a Stanley Cup as a 21-year-old in 2006.
A one-time teammate, Francis has to decide whether to move on from Staal with the Hurricanes vying for their first playoff berth since 2009. Staal has to decide whether to waive his no-trade clause to help facilitate an exit from the only NHL home he’s ever known.
Thursday may have been one of his finals games as a Hurricane.
“It’s an awkward situation,” Jordan Staal continued, speaking Thursday morning. “But at the same time he’s come ready to play and ready to work every day and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Leafs, meanwhile, confirmed early Thursday evening that wingers James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul will not play again this season.
Van Riemsdyk broke his foot in early January, but has yet to start skating and won’t be ready to play again this year, his fourth with the Leafs. Lupul required sports hernia surgery and produced only 14 points in 46 games this season.
Hurricanes forward Andrej Nestrasil was hit hard by Leafs centre Nazem Kadri late in the second period and didn’t return.
Carolina hosts Boston on Friday night.
© 2016 The Canadian Press