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Maple Leafs set to take on spoiler role this week

From The Star

The Maple Leafs might want to look their week as the first one in which they can play spoilers. They play three teams that are are in the fight of their lives for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Starting Tuesday in Philadelphia who are two points out of a wild-card spot, then Thursday against Carolina, who are tied with the Flyers, and finishing at home to Montreal, hanging on to the final wild-card spot by a thread.

Tuesday at Philadelphia, 7 p.m.: This is the first meeting of the year between the two teams. The Flyers are on a 5-0-1 run but having trouble making any real gains on a playoff spot. “It’s all about gaining points, that’s how you evaluate performance,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol. “It’s hard to climb up the standings. And it only gets tougher. You can go the other way pretty quickly. If you miss three, four points in a row. Consistency at this time of year is a real key.”

Thursday vs. Carolina, 7 p.m.: The Maple Leafs beat the Hurricanes 2-1 in a shootout in Carolina in their only meeting so far this year. The Canes (nee Whalers) are 60-36-15 all time against the Leafs, a points percentage of .608. The Hurricanes are in the post-season conversation thanks to a 12-7-4 run since the beginning of December. “We don’t even talk about the standings,” coach Bill Peters told the Hurricanes website. “They’re too dynamic, and it’s too far out. We know we have to get points and go on extended runs. You start watching the out-of-town scoreboard, and it will drive you crazy.” The key is to get to the Hurricanes early. They are 15-4-5 when scoring first but 5-15-3 when their opponent scores first.

Saturday vs. Montreal, 7 p.m.: Isn’t this delicious, Leaf Nation? Poor Montreal. Losing, so much it’s like they’re going off a cliff. Off-ice controversies. Demands the coach be fired. Ain’t so fun, is it Montreal? The Leafs lost both games so far this season to their long-time rival, but those were the first and last game of Montreal’s 9-0 start to the season. Montreal looked like Cup champions then. But the collapse has been, well, almost Leaf-like since Carey Price got hurt. The Habs have won only five times since Nov. 28 (5-14-1). Who knows if coach Michel Therrien will still have his job by the end of the week.

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