After winning one of their first 13 games, the rejuvenated Leafs (3-7-5) try for a third straight victory in front of goalie Jonas Gustavsson(notes), while the Wild again look for their first win at Air Canada Centre.
Problems in net were a big reason Toronto lost its first eight games, including seven in a row in regulation from Oct. 3-24.
But Gustavsson, a 25-year-old undrafted rookie from Sweden, has returned from a groin injury and supplanted the struggling Vesa Toskala(notes), starting six of the Leafs’ last seven games while going 3-0-3 with a 2.47 goals-against average.
His best performance came Saturday against Detroit, as he made 35 saves in a 5-1 win - Toronto’s first home victory this season.
“Everybody on the team wants to win and wants to be successful,” Gustavsson said. “We want the fans to be happy. When we started playing better, everybody’s going to be happy. If we can just continue like this it’s going to be a fun season.”
The win extended the Leafs’ point streak to seven games (3-0-4) since a 3-1 loss at Vancouver on Oct. 24. Another big reason for their surge is an offense that has scored three or more goals five times over that span after doing it twice in the season’s first eight games.
Newcomer Phil Kessel(notes) scored his first goal Saturday in his third game with Toronto after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Kessel had 36 goals in 70 games for Boston last season before coming over in a trade.
“When you get solid goaltending it certainly helps,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “… Obviously having Phil Kessel in there as well, we just have a different feel.”
Toronto remains at least five points behind every other team in its division, and Minnesota is attempting to dig itself out of a similar hole in the Northwest.
In his lone career appearance against the Leafs, Backstrom stopped 27 shots in a 6-1 win Jan. 27. He has never played in Toronto, where the Wild are 0-4-0 all-time.
Minnesota’s offense is still searching for a spark, held to three or fewer goals in 14 consecutive games since a 4-3 win over Anaheim on Oct. 6. The Wild beat the Ducks again Saturday, outshooting them 37-21 and controlling play in a 3-2 win.
The team is still having problems on the power play, going 0 for 5 for the second straight game. The Wild haven’t converted any of their 14 chances on the man advantage in the last four games, while Toronto has killed all 16 of its opponents’ power plays in the last four.
Minnesota will play without winger Petr Sykora(notes), who suffered a concussion against Dallas. Defenseman Kim Johnsson(notes) could return, however, after missing seven games with an upper-body injury.