Final SO

Series (Game 3 of 4)

Series tied 2-2

Game 1: Wednesday, October 13th
Maple Leafs4Final
Game 2: Wednesday, December 8th
Maple Leafs2Final
Game 3: Saturday, February 26th
Maple Leafs5
Game 4: Wednesday, March 2nd
Maple Leafs3

Penguins 6

(37-21-6, 80 pts)

Maple Leafs 5

(27-27-8, 62 pts)

Coverage: NHL

7:00 PM ET, February 26, 2011

Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

1 2 3 SO T
PIT 1 2 2 16
TOR 1 1 3 05

J. Lupul (Maple Leafs - RW): Goals: 2, Assists: 0

A. Kovalev (Penguins - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

M. Rupp (Penguins - LW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

Penguins-Maple Leafs Preview


Long an afterthought in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Maple Leafs have used a recent hot streak to get back in the playoff picture.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, meanwhile, can hardly like the way they're playing as the stretch run begins.

The Maple Leafs look to continue their surge with a fifth win in six games Saturday night against the struggling Penguins, who play their next two games in Toronto -- with three days off in between.

The Leafs (27-27-7) haven't made the playoffs in seven years, a drought that seemed certain to continue when they were 14 points out of the East's No. 8 spot at the end of January.

They're just six behind eighth-place Carolina now thanks to an 8-2-2 record in February, and they've picked up at least a point in each of their last five games. Toronto won for the fourth time in that stretch Thursday, getting two goals and two assists from Phil Kessel while slipping past Montreal 5-4.

"It's an exciting time of year," said rookie goaltender James Reimer, who improved to 10-4-2 with a 2.24 goals-against average. "We've got 19 games left and we're ... creeping closer and closer, so (the playoffs are) definitely doable."

The Leafs could have been just four points out had Pittsburgh (36-21-6) played better in the opener of its five-game road trip Friday in Carolina. The Penguins fell to 2-6-2 in their last 10 games -- a stretch in which they've totaled 17 goals -- with a 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes.

Pittsburgh outshot Carolina 28-12 over the final two periods in the debut of veteran forward Alex Kovalev, reacquired Thursday for a conditional draft pick and installed on a first line with center Jordan Staal and other new acquisition James Neal.

"He's definitely a different player," Staal told the Penguins' official website of Kovalev. "He's very talented and sees the ice very well. It's a little different playing with him, but I started feeling better throughout the game."

Kovalev, who spent the past six seasons in the Northeast Division, has just one goal in his last 11 games versus Toronto.

The Penguins haven't visited Air Canada Centre since a 4-1 win Jan. 9, 2010, but they'll get quite used to the Maple Leafs' home over the next few days. A bizarre scheduling quirk has Pittsburgh back at the ACC on Wednesday night with no games in between.

The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, play at Atlanta on Sunday before returning to host the Penguins again.

Toronto might be more glad than most teams that Sidney Crosby -- along with six other forwards -- remains on the shelf. The former Hart Trophy winner has a six-game goal streak against the Leafs during which he's scored nine times.

Crosby's return date remains unclear, but rookie Dustin Jeffrey was back Friday after missing six games. Fellow forward Mark Letestu -- who had two goals in a 5-2 win over Toronto on Dec. 8 -- could return Saturday, as could defenseman Paul Martin.

Kessel has six goals during the team's 4-0-1 stretch, but he has just one goal in five games versus Pittsburgh since joining Toronto.

The Maple Leafs are 15-4-1 this season when Kessel scores.

"He's turned it on right now and he's a pretty scary player when he gets going," center Tyler Bozak said.

Neal, born an hour up the road in Oshawa, Ont., has four goals in three games against Toronto -- including a hat trick at the ACC on Dec. 23, 2008.