TORONTO — The Canes have won their last two games and three of the last four, which probably explains the laughter and smiles at today's morning skate at the Air Canada Centre.
The Maple Leafs, in contrast, have lost three in a row and five of six, which may explain the rather sullen, dour expressions at their skate.
How that will translate tonight when they play is anybody's guess. But while the Canes still are 30th and last in the league standings, they're now four points behind Edmonton and six behind the Leafs. They're 15 points out of playoff position in the East.
Asked by the Toronto media today if the Canes had enough talent to gear up make a run at the playoffs, coach Paul Maurice said, "Well, we think we do. We played some real fine hockey at the end of last year ... and I think we played the best hockey we were capable of playing.
"The fact of the matter is we can hold water and fight and compete right now, but we're going to have to get our bigger guys back to make that kind of push. Or, Cam Ward is going to have to do what he's been doing for the last couple of weeks and play as good as he's capable of playing.
"So the top two or three players at the top of your food chain have to be dominant players every night. Eric Staal has to. Cam Ward has to. And we need to keep those guys healthy."
Staal, who scored Sunday in the 4-1 win over Ottawa, said the Canes were "finding ways to lose" for too much of the first half of the season. But with Ward has his best in net, he said, the Canes have been able to get out of the rut and notch a few wins -- Carolina is 5-4-1 in the last 10 games.
"It's a huge hill for us to try and climb now," Staal said. "It's tough but we'll keep battling and hopefully it will get better."