Surging Leafs try to extend winning streak in Dallas

11:32 AM, Jan 23, 2014   |    comments
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( - It didn't look that way at the start, but January has been a pretty good month for the surging Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs look to stay hot on Thursday night by posting their longest winning streak in over 10 years as they continue their road trip versus the Dallas Stars.

Toronto kicked off the new year with a shootout win over Detroit in the Winter Classic, but then went on to lose four straight. That skid has become a memory as the Maple Leafs have rebounded with six consecutive wins and are now tied for third place in the Atlantic Division with 59 points, matching the rival Montreal Canadiens.

The line of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak has been at the center of the surge, combining for 14 goals and 30 points over the last seven games.

Kessel has a goal in four straight while also posting six goals and eight assists over a seven-game point streak. He scored twice in Tuesday's 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, giving him 26 tallies and 52 points on the season.

"We're winning right, so that is the most important thing. Whatever I can do to help the team win and just keep going," said Kessel. "I could have had a bunch tonight. I missed some good chances, but like I said we got the win and it's a big win for us."

Toronto also got a goal and an assist from van Riemsdyk, while Jay McClement and Jake Gardiner added scores and James Reimer made 35 saves.

The Leafs have won six straight for the first time since Dec. 23-Jan. 2 during the 2005-06 campaign. They haven't won seven in a row since an eight-game run from Nov. 22-Dec. 6, 2003.

"It was a team effort tonight," said van Riemsdyk. "This could have been an excuse game with the altitude and back-to-back games. We didn't let that happen."

Toronto had opened a four-game swing with a victory in Phoenix the previous night and will wrap the trek on Saturday in Winnipeg. The Leafs are now 10-10-4 on the road.

While the Maple Leafs are on an impressive winning streak, the Stars will settle for winning back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 23-27. They are just 2-8-1 in January but are coming off a 4-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

Kari Lehtonen made 18 saves for his second shutout of the season and 24th of his career, while Ray Whitney, Jordie Benn, Vernon Fiddler and Erik Cole all scored.

The Stars outshot the Wild 12-3 in the first period and led 2-0 to eventually capture the opener of a five-game homestand.

"It's been frustrating because we've had a lot of good opportunities inside a game that haven't gone for us," said Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff. "We've started some games really well and all of a sudden a goal can go in and it's a little bit of a letdown. But you know we really gave a key effort and got the saves when we needed them, and the power play was good and the killing was good."

Dallas scored twice on the power play and has lit the lamp on the man advantage in five straight games. That is the longest such streak for the club since doing so in seven straight from Dec. 11-23, 2010.

Benn, meanwhile, picked up his second goal of the season on a third-period penalty shot. It was Dallas' seventh penalty shot of the season, a new club record that also ties an NHL single-season mark, and Dallas has scored four times on the seven tries.

The Stars are 9-3-1 in their last 13 games at home versus the Maple Leafs, but have lost three straight in the series overall. That includes a 3-2 overtime setback in Toronto on Dec. 5 despite a season-high 50 shots.

Lehtonen made 21 saves on 24 shots, giving up the winner with 42 seconds left in overtime. He fell to 2-6-2 lifetime versus Toronto with a 2.95 goals against average.

Kessel had two assists and Jonathan Bernier, who is likely to start tonight, made 48 saves and moved to 3-2-1 lifetime versus the Stars with a 2.12 GAA.

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