Leafs hope to keep Isles from rare back-to-back wins
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NEW YORK -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are two weeks away from embarking upon a pursuit they hope will allow the franchise to achieve something it hasn't done in more than 50 years. The New York Islanders will have far more modest and shorter-term goals in mind Friday night, when they host the Maple Leafs at Barclays Center.
Both teams won their most recent games. The Maple Leafs continued surging toward the playoffs Wednesday, when they beat the visiting Florida Panthers 4-3. The Islanders earned a rare victory Tuesday, when they edged the host Ottawa Senators 4-3.
The win was the team-record 46th of the season for the Maple Leafs (46-24-7). The 1998-99, 1999-2000 and 2003-04 clubs all won 45 games apiece.
But as notable as the achievement was Wednesday night, the Maple Leafs have far loftier goals in mind, Toronto hasn't reached the Stanley Cup Finals since winning its last championship in 1967. Both droughts are by far the longest among the NHL's "Original Six" franchises.
"It's nice to get, obviously," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said about the 46th victory following Wednesday's game. "But we've got bigger plans. We're just moving along and trying to get better."
The Maple Leafs, who are one point away from their first 100-point season since 2003-04, are all but locked into third place in the Atlantic Division and a first-round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning or Boston Bruins. Boston moved past Tampa Bay and into first place in the Atlantic Division with a 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Thursday.
While the Maple Leafs have history in mind, the Islanders (32-35-10) just want to remember what it's like to win consecutive games. The win Tuesday was just the third in the last 17 games (3-10-4) for New York since its most recent two-game winning streak Feb. 15-16.
The Islanders have produced back-to-back wins only three times since the end of November. No wonder, then, that New York was officially eliminated from playoff contention with a 3-0 loss to the Panthers on Monday night.
"As athletes, we want to win -- we hate losing, so we want to compete, go out there, work hard and do the right things," Islanders left winger Anthony Beauvillier told the team's website following Tuesday's game. "It's about pride, playing for us and feeling good about ourselves."
Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen is likely to oppose the Islanders' Jaroslav Halak in a battle of number one net-minders.
Andersen earned the win Wednesday, when he stopped 30 shots against the Panthers. Halak notched the victory Tuesday, when he recorded 33 saves against the Senators.
Andersen is 5-1-1 in seven career appearances against the Islanders while Halak is 8-3-4 in 16 games against the Maple Leafs.
With a win Friday, the Maple Leafs will sweep the season series from the Islanders for the first time since the 1996-97 campaign. The first two meetings this season were played at Air Canada Centre, where Toronto cruised to a 5-0 win Jan. 31 and earned a 4-3 shootout victory Feb. 22.
Updated March 29, 2018