GAME: Toronto Maple Leafs (32-16-9-3) at Carolina Hurricanes (18-27-11-2).
TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.
Though the Toronto Maple Leafs have played well this season despite a rash of injuries, the one player they can't do without is goaltender Ed Belfour.
Toronto again will be missing its top goalie when it puts a six-game road unbeaten streak on the line against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Belfour did not dress for the sixth time in Toronto's past seven games Tuesday with a nagging back injury, and backup Trevor Kidd struggled again in a 5-2 loss to Boston.
Belfour, who hasn't played since last Thursday's 4-1 win over Columbus, did not make the flight to Carolina. He went through a light skate Wednesday, his first on-ice work since last Friday, but didn't face any shots.
"We don't want him at 90 percent, we want him at 100 percent," Toronto coach Pat Quinn said. "He's willing to play in a lesser shape, but the point is for him to get in top shape and then we'll talk about playing."
In Belfour's place, Kidd is 1-3-1 while allowing 22 goals. He gave up three goals on three straight shots in the second period Tuesday. Mikael Tellqvist was in net for an 8-4 victory at Pittsburgh on Monday.
"We have to look at ourselves, it's easy to blame somebody," Quinn said. "Our team play hasn't been good enough. Our defensemen haven't done a good job, either handling the puck or passing it."
Tuesday's loss dropped the Leafs into a first-place tie with Ottawa in the Northeast Division while surging Boston pulled within one point of both teams.
Toronto, 5-0-1 in its last six road games, is tied with Boston for the most road wins in the East with 17.
Also missing from the Leafs' lineup Tuesday were leading goal scorer Gary Roberts and right wing Alexander Mogilny.
Roberts missed his second straight game with a pulled leg muscle while Mogilny hasn't played since Nov. 22 following reconstructive surgery on his left hip. Roberts, who went on injured reserve Wednesday, won't be back until next week at the earliest while Mogilny could return Saturday against Montreal.
Carolina has virtually no shot at the postseason, sitting 13th in the East with too much ground to make up on eighth-place Montreal.
The Hurricanes ended a six-game winless streak with a 3-1 victory over visiting Florida on Monday.
"There's been a lot of games where we've come out and dominated the first period and we'll walk away 1-0 down, 2-0 down," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "It was nice to get some rewards for the work."
In a surprise move, the Hurricanes recalled veteran goalie Arturs Irbe from Lowell of the AHL on Tuesday. Irbe, the franchise leader in wins, games played and shutouts, is expected to play in one of the team's next three games.
STANDINGS (through Feb. 17): Maple Leafs - 76 points, 1st place (tied), Northeast Division. Hurricanes - 49 points, 4th place, 23 PB, Southeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Maple Leafs - Roberts, 22 goals; Mats Sundin, 36 assists and 57 points; Tie Domi, 161 PIM. Hurricanes - Josef Vasicek, 15 goals; Justin Williams, 22 assists and 31 points; Jesse Boulerice, 95 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 17): Maple Leafs - Power play: 19.6 percent (55 for 281), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.4 percent (244 for 289), 16th. Hurricanes - Power play: 11.7 percent (31 for 266), 29th. Penalty killing: 81.1 percent (202 for 249), 26th.
GOALTENDERS: Maple Leafs - Kidd (5-4-2, 1 SO, 3.15 GAA); Tellqvist (3-0-2, 2.77). Hurricanes - Kevin Weekes (18-21-9, 6, 2.26); Irbe (no appearances).
SEASON SERIES: 1-1-0.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 27; Hurricanes, 2-0. At Toronto, Weekes made 32 saves for his career-best sixth shutout and Erik Cole scored a short-handed goal to lead Carolina.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Maple Leafs - 17-7-7-1 on the road; Hurricanes - 11-12-7-1 at home.