The Carolina Hurricanes are struggling with a rash of illness and injuries, and find themselves in danger of losing their Southeast Division lead.
Carolina hopes to get a few key players back in the lineup Tuesday night when it visits the sinking Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Hurricanes (22-21-4), whose 48 points are the fewest of any first-place team in the NHL, are 2-5-1 in their last eight games. Carolina has lost forwards Ray Whitney, Trevor Letowski and Wade Brookbank and defenseman Glen Wesley to a flu bug that has moved through the team.
Injuries to forwards Justin Williams (knee), Matt Cullen (concussion) and Scott Walker (knee) and defensemen Bret Hedican (knee) and David Tanabe (concussion) have further depleted the roster.
On Saturday, Carolina squandered three two-goal leads in a 5-4 loss to Colorado.
"It's pretty obvious what's going on," Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "We're depleted, for sure, and we don't have a margin for error. It's going to be a dogfight all year and we know that."
The Hurricanes' division lead has been reduced from six points before this eight-game stretch to two over Atlanta, which visits league-leading Detroit on Tuesday.
Carolina hopes Whitney, Letowski, Wesley and Brookbank are able to return Tuesday as they look to regain some breathing room atop the division. Defenseman Niclas Wallin, however, is the latest flu victim and won't play Tuesday.
Whitney had six goals and seven assists in his last 10 games before the flu kept him out of three contests. The left wing has seven goals and nine assists in his last 13 games against the Maple Leafs, including a goal and an assist in a 7-1 victory at Air Canada Centre on Oct. 9.
Whitney forced overtime in the teams' last meeting Dec. 18, tying the game with 27 seconds to go in regulation before Walker scored in the extra period for a 3-2 win.
With its roster so thin, Carolina needs better play from Cam Ward, who's allowed nine goals on 53 shots over the last two games - both losses. He's 3-7-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average in his last 12 contests.
"We're still a first-place team, and we haven't played as well as we want to," left wing Cory Stillman said. "Obviously, the gap's closing a little, but we have an opportunity to get healthy now, and we can win hockey games. That's just a mentality that we've got to get back to."
Stillman and the Hurricanes look to go up 3-0 in the season series when they take on the struggling Maple Leafs (16-21-8). Toronto has lost 11 of 13 and will be trying to avoid dropping six in a row for the first time since a seven-game slide from Nov. 25-Dec. 9, 2006.
The Leafs' skid reached a season-high five games Saturday as they failed to hold a two-goal third-period lead, allowing San Jose to score three times in the final 20 minutes of a 3-2 loss.
Toronto is last in the Northeast Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference. The pressure may be increasing on Leafs coach Paul Maurice, who failed to lead the team to the playoffs last season.
"They played their guts out - three games in four nights," Maurice said after Saturday's loss. "With all the stuff they're dealing with and the weight ... that's hanging on them, they came out and played hard. They deserved a better fate."
Center Nik Antropov has a goal in each of the previous two games after enduring a 12-game goal drought. He hasn't recorded a point in his last three games against Carolina, however.