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Liles back in Leafs’ lineup vs. Penguins

For the first time since Feb. 16, John-Michael Liles will be back in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup.

The 32-year-old native of Indianapolis, Indiana. has one goal and six points in 15 games played this season.

In this match-up, the Pittsburgh Penguins will try to take advantage of a Toronto Maple Leafs defence that’s given up a combined 17 goals in the past four games and 13 during a season-high three-game skid (0-2-1). The Leafs (15-11-1) gave up four straight scores to Winnipeg in the second and third periods in a 5-2 road defeat Tuesday.

“Obviously tough times come and we know we’re not playing our best right now but, honestly, maybe that’s the best thing,” goaltender James Reimer said. “If we were playing our best and still losing then you know we’d be in trouble. All we have to do is get back to, you know, what we do well and we’ll be fine.”

Crosby, the NHL’s leader with 45 points, has scored in eight straight games against Toronto, tallying 11 goals to go with two assists. He also had the shootout winner Saturday, his first game in Toronto since Jan. 9, 2010.

“We had a tight one against them last time and we expect the same this time,” Sutter said. “They’re a good team that’s got a lot of speed so we have to slow them down.”

Crosby has nine goals and six assists in 11 all-time contests in Toronto. Pittsburgh has alternated wins and losses in its last six games against the Maple Leafs but had dropped three in a row at the Air Canada Centre before this past weekend.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have prevailed in a number of close games during their season-high win streak, including last weekend’s visit to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With Evgeni Malkin likely out for a third straight game, the Penguins will try to get past the slumping Maple Leafs again and earn a seventh consecutive victory Thursday night.

Pittsburgh (19-8-0) has won by one goal in four of its last six games and needed a shootout to beat Toronto 5-4 on Saturday. The Penguins got those two points despite blowing a two-goal lead and rallied from two down in the third period for a 3-2 win over Boston in their most recent game Tuesday.

Brandon Sutter scored the tying and go-ahead goals in the final 5:27, with the winner coming with 2:03 to go.

“We’ve won games in a lot of different ways. The thing that has stuck out to me is our mental toughness,” defenceman Mark Eaton said. “We’re finding ways to win. The attitude and the mental part of the game is something you really can’t work on, so it’s nice to have that.”

Pittsburgh has extended its win streak while Malkin has dealt with another injury. The star forward is expected to miss at least one more week with an upper-body injury.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said the injury was unrelated to the concussion that kept him out four straight games from Feb. 24-March 2.

The Penguins’ current top line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis have helped make up for his absence by scoring 16 of the team’s 29 goals during the win streak. Sutter and James Neal have also chipped in with four goals apiece while defenceman Kris Letang has 12 assists.

“After (a 4-1 loss in Carolina on Feb. 28), the mentality of our team has been is that we’re going to go out and keep playing. We’re going to have that mentality that we’re going to keep playing our way,” Bylsma said.