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The Toronto Maple Leafs have waited all season for Vesa Toskala to seize control of the No. 1 goaltending job. Their patience may finally be paying off.
Toskala and the Maple Leafs look to extend a season-high three-game win streak Thursday night when they face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Ineffective play from Toskala and Andrew Raycroft is one of the main reasons why Toronto (11-11-6) has struggled most of this season. While Toskala has an unimpressive 2.93 goals-against average, Raycroft's is 3.50.
Toskala and his teammates, however, have put together their best stretch of the season, winning three straight by a combined 11-5 score. Toskala has been in net for all three wins, stopping 87 of 92 shots.
He made 34 saves and Tomas Kaberle set up a pair of goals Tuesday in a 3-1 victory over visiting Nashville.
"Just playing," Toskala told the Maple Leafs' official Web site when asked why he's been so sharp lately. "That's the biggest and most simple reason. When you get the ice time, you start to feel comfortable."
While Toskala's goaltending has been a big key in Toronto's improved play, right wing Darcy Tucker believes it's not the only reason.
"I don't think you can just point to one area," he said. "As a team, we're playing a lot better defensively."
Captain Mats Sundin and center Nik Antropov have continued to provide the bulk of Toronto's offense lately. Sundin has two goals and three assists in his last four games while Antropov has two goals and four assists in that same span.
Defenseman Pavel Kubina missed his 10th straight game Tuesday with an injured knee, but could be back in the Leafs' lineup Thursday. Kubina has one goal and 10 assists in 18 games this season.
The Rangers (15-10-2) hope to rebound from one of their worst games of the season - a 4-0 home loss to Carolina on Monday.
Coming off an impressive 5-2 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa on Saturday, New York was blanked for the first time since Oct. 23 at Pittsburgh.
"You'd like to think that we're sort of mature enough as a team to recognize you've got to sort of maintain some equilibrium," New York coach Tom Renney said. "Tonight it just wasn't there. There wasn't sort of that synapse between the brain and feet."
Even Henrik Lundqvist - third in the NHL with a 1.91 GAA - wasn't at his best, allowing more than three goals for only the second time in 25 appearances this season.
"We wanted to come back to New York after a good road game and play a good game," Lundqvist said. "Starting with myself, we have to play better."
Lundqvist hasn't fared particularly well in seven career starts against the Leafs, going 4-3-0 with a 3.43 GAA.
New York is 12-4-1 in its last 17 games, and hasn't lost two straight in regulation since Oct. 13-18.
Jaromir Jagr has at least one point in nine of his last 10 games against Toronto, tallying eight goals and 11 assists in that span.
The Maple Leafs are 1-0-1 this season against the Rangers, including a 4-1 victory on Oct. 27 at MSG.