Time is running out for the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs to make a playoff push.
The Maple Leafs try to avoid losing their sixth straight game when they host the Montreal Canadiens.
Toronto has been outscored 23-11 in its last five games and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1997-98 season.
The Maple Leafs were sixth in the Eastern Conference with 49 points on Jan. 5 and led Montreal by eight points. They have gone 4-12-2 since, and now trail the Canadiens by eight points for the final playoff spot.
“It’s tough losing, especially now that the games are so important,” center Alex Steen said. “The upcoming games are going to be really key.”
The Maple Leafs have won seven of their last 10 games against the Canadiens, but will be without center Eric Lindros, who will undergo surgery after tearing a ligament in his right wrist in Toronto’s 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
The injury-prone six-time All-Star has 11 goals and 11 assists in 33 games this season.
Steen and Alex Ponikarovsky scored have scored goals in each of the last two games.
Goaltender Ed Belfour is 3-11-1 with a 3.64 goals-against average since Jan. 6, but is 3-1-0 against the Canadiens this season. The 40-year-old goalie has won three straight over Montreal, despite posting a 2.91 GAA and .909 save percentage in those games.
The Canadiens came back from a 4-2 third-period deficit against Philadelphia Monday night, but eventually lost 5-4 in a shootout.
“Taking the point after being behind two goals is a pretty good result for us,” Montreal coach Bob Gainey said.
Montreal is unbeaten in regulation in its last nine games, going 6-0-3 in that span.
Mike Ribeiro scored two goals and has three goals in his last two games, while Chris Higgins scored once and has five goals in his last four games.
Each of the five meetings this season between Toronto and Montreal have been decided by one goal.