Maple Leafs-Capitals Preview

The Associated Press

If the Toronto Maple Leafs are to continue their recent success, they might need to do so without their top goaltender for the time being.

It's uncertain if Jonathan Bernier will be in net Sunday when the Maple Leafs try to end their road struggles against the Washington Capitals.

Bernier allowed two first-period goals Thursday at Los Angeles, then sat the final 40 minutes of Toronto's 3-2 win with a lower-body injury. In his first season with the Maple Leafs (36-24-8) after five as the Kings backup, Bernier is 25-16-7 with a 2.61 goals-against average while playing 50 games - double his total from any other season. He posted a 1.95 GAA during a three-game winning streak prior to Thursday's contest.

If Bernier is sidelined, the load will fall to James Reimer, who stopped 31 shots to help Toronto snap the Kings' eight-game winning streak and win for the fourth time in five games.

"Reimer was huge," said defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who scored the tying goal in the second period. "He showed he's a good goalie, he kept us in the game."

Reimer, who made at least 31 starts in each of the past three seasons with Toronto, had a 4.71 goals-against average in his previous nine appearances.

The Maple Leafs are third in the Eastern Conference but just seven points clear of being outside the playoff picture.

"We need every point that we can possibly get," said coach Randy Carlyle, whose team is 2-1-0 on a five-game trip. "We're in desperation mode as every team is."

Mason Raymond scored the short-handed tiebreaker early in the third period Thursday for his third goal in six games.

Leading scorer Phil Kessel was held without a point for the second straight game and fourth in the last six. He had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 loss at Washington on Jan. 10 in the teams' last matchup.

That was Toronto's seventh defeat in its last nine visits to the nation's capital. The Capitals (31-27-10) have often dominated offensively during that stretch, scoring 36 goals while going 14 for 35 (40.0 percent) on the power play.

Washington has totaled 20 goals in its last six home games while going 4-1-1, including a 4-3 victory over Vancouver on Friday despite blowing a two-goal lead.

In his third game, Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded three assists for his first NHL points to help Washington win for the second time in seven games overall. The Capitals' first-round pick in 2010 signed last week after playing five years in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League.

"He's sort of got that young mentality where you know you're not afraid to make a play and do these things that you're capable of," said defenseman Mike Green, whose tiebreaking goal in the third was assisted by Kuznetsov.

"He's going to be a great player."

The Capitals, just outside playoff position in the East but within eight points of Toronto, are trying to reach the postseason for a seventh consecutive year.

"Making sure we get into the playoffs, that's all the focus is on right now," said forward Nicklas Backstrom, who also assisted on Green's winner.

Alex Ovechkin snapped a four-game goal drought with his league-leading 45th of the season. He has a goal in three straight and four of five versus Toronto.

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