The Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders are a long way from playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Both teams, however, can be encouraged by their recent defensive play.
The Maple Leafs look to ride their improved defense to their third straight win Thursday night when they visit the Islanders, coming off two strong outings of their own.
Though it's still 10 points behind the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, Toronto (23-26-12) is in position to record its first three-game winning streak since Dec. 8-16, thanks in large part to Vesa Toskala's hot streak.
The Finnish goaltender has stopped 102 of 107 shots in three straight starts since taking a week off, helping the Maple Leafs go 2-0-1 in that stretch. He led the club to a home-and-home sweep of the New York Rangers, capped by a 2-1 shootout victory Wednesday night.
Toskala stopped 31 shots and turned aside all three attempts in the shootout, improving to 6-0-4 since his last regulation loss Jan. 19.
"He's been playing outstanding," defenseman Ian White said. "His last couple games he's pretty much single-handedly won us the games."
Toskala, who's 21-17-10 with a 3.26 goals-against average overall, said he hasn't done anything different during his current run of success.
"I felt good, but I've been feeling good all season long, so nothing's really changed," he said.
Though this is a back-to-back situation for Toronto, Toskala's comments after Wednesday's game made it seem like he expected to be in net again Thursday.
"It's not easy every night out there, but I'm just trying to do my best and I think I've been doing pretty good," he said.
If Toskala doesn't play Thursday, Toronto would have to turn to veteran Curtis Joseph, who hasn't started since Jan. 1.
The NHL-worst Islanders (18-36-6) have gotten a boost from Yann Danis, who came into this season with five career starts - all with Montreal in 2005-06.
Denis made a career-high 40 saves to notch his second career shutout in a 4-0 win over New Jersey on Saturday night before holding Pittsburgh to a late third-period goal Wednesday night.
Unfortunately for the Islanders, the one goal they gave up sent them to a 1-0 defeat, their 19th regulation loss in 21 road games since Nov. 28.
"Defensively, we're playing really strong. We're not giving up a lot of chances," said Danis, who had gone five periods without giving up a goal before Petr Sykora scored off a rebound with 2:28 remaining Wednesday.
"We created some chances in the second and hit the crossbar. On the road, pucks just aren't going our way."
It's unclear if Danis will start the second game of New York's back-to-back. If he doesn't, the job will fall to Joey MacDonald, who's 1-6-0 with a 3.65 GAA in eight games since the start of January.
The Islanders are likely looking forward to their return home, where they've gone 5-1-2 since Jan. 19.
The Maple Leafs are 1-2-2 in their last five trips to Nassau Coliseum, including a 4-1 loss there Dec. 26.
In the teams' only other previous meeting this season, the Islanders took a 4-2 victory in Toronto on Dec. 8 behind two goals from captain Bill Guerin.