Leafs take on Senators with home-ice advantage on the line
For weeks now, it's been practically assured the Toronto Maple Leafs will face the Boston Bruins in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
The only real question has been who will have home-ice advantage.
The Maple Leafs (45-25-7, 97 points) dropped six points back of the second-place Bruins in the Atlantic Division with five regular-season games remaining with a 5-4 shootout loss Wednesday at Philadelphia. It was Toronto's first shootout of the season.
The Maple Leafs will look to gain points in the standings Saturday when they play at Ottawa (27-44-6, 60 points), the team with the worst record in the league.
John Tavares, who scored four goals in a 7-5 victory against Florida on Monday, said the Maple Leafs are already close to playoff mode.
"You want to be healthy (physically), you want to be feeling good, but our game has to be feeling good and we want that going in the right direction," Tavares told The Globe and Mail.
"It's the right balance of keeping that edge and intensity and focus on continuing to improve and being as best prepared as you can be, and then obviously you want to be able to physically be as fresh as you can be and feel as good as you can."
Tavares has 45 goals this season and is trying to become Toronto's first 50-goal scorer since Dave Andreychuk in 1993-94.
The Maple Leafs, 3-4-2 in their past nine games, hope to get defenseman Travis Dermott back Saturday. Dermott, who has been out since Feb. 27 with a shoulder injury, took part in practice Thursday. Fellow defenseman Jake Gardiner (back injury) also participated in practice but was wearing a non-contact jersey. Coach Mike Babcock said the Maple Leafs hope to have Gardiner back by the end of the regular season.
The Senators had a modest two-game winning streak snapped with a 5-2 defeat against visiting Florida on Thursday.
Brady Tkachuk scored his 20th goal of the season and tied a franchise single-game record with 12 shots on goal against the Panthers.
"Tkachuk was sensational," Senators interim head coach Marc Crawford said. "That's as good a game I've seen from anybody, let alone a rookie, this year."
The 19-year-old Tkachuk, the fourth overall pick in last summer's NHL draft, also tied Alexandre Daigle (1993-94) for the most single-season goals by a teenager in franchise history.
"It was a goal of mine individually, and yeah it was nice, but we didn't get the two points," Tkachuk told the Ottawa Sun. "It's a little disappointing. Like every game, it's a chance to learn and we'll use that moving forward."
Crawford said the Senators have been pleased with Tkachuk's play since day one.
"We've all been excited about how he's played all year," Crawford said. "It's been a process for him. He's a very bright kid who continues to learn each and every outing. There's very few games where he doesn't give you a total committed effort."
The Senators are expected to start Craig Anderson in net. Anderson made 35 saves in a 4-0 shutout against Buffalo on Tuesday. That gave Anderson two straight wins after going 0-13-1 in his previous 14 decisions.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 29, 2019