By Dave Vest
TORONTO – Not long ago, a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs would have been just what the Coyotes, or any other NHL team, would welcome after a humbling defeat. But suddenly, the Maple Leafs, who lost their first eight games of the season, have won seven of their past 10 and four in a row at home to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Coyotes (19-12-2) will attempt to end that streak on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre. The puck drops at 5:30 p.m. (Arizona time).
"They look like a team that is playing with some confidence," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said of the Maple Leafs (12-14-7). "We'll have to be ready for a very confident team."
This game is the second of four road games in six days for Phoenix, which started the trip with a 3-2 loss at Detroit on Monday.
Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to make his 14th consecutive start in goal for the Coyotes as they try to snap out of a funk on the road. Phoenix has posted a 1-3-2 record in its past six games away from Glendale.
"This is a great building to play in, so if we can get the crowd out of it and minimize them as quick as we can, it's going to be good," Upshall said.
Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala has won four of his past five starts and has given up just 13 goals in those five games.
"It's huge when you start to trust your goaltender, other things start to fall into place, you get more offensive opportunities," Maple Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson told reporters. "The defensemen aren't worried about making mistakes and, thereby, don't make as many, generally."
Phoenix has won each of the past three games vs. the Maple Leafs, outscoring them 15-7 in those games.
Coyotes right wing Radim Vrbata has notched five points in the past six games, including one goal in each of the past three games. He leads the team with 10 goals.
Maple Leafs center Phil Kessel, the fifth overall pick of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has notched 12 goals in 21 games since returning from injury.
Coyotes forward Daniel Winnik, who grew up in the Toronto area, is ecstatic to be playing his first regular-season NHL game at the Air Canada Centre (see PODCASTS below). Forward Paul Bissonnette also grew up in southern Ontario.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan is looking to snap a season-high goal-scoring drought at six games. This will be Doan's 999th NHL game.
Maple Leafs fans are starting to talk playoffs because their team has rebounded from its franchise-worst 0-7-1 start to the season. "We've risen from the dead," Toronto Head Coach Ron Wilson told reporters. "Our team is proud of themselves for getting out of this hole."
"I'll probably be wanting to go a million miles per hour... especially in that first period."