No matter how cold it gets outside at the Big House in Ann Arbor on Wednesday, the Maple Leafs have turned down the heat in the Air Canada Centre.

For all the problems they’ve encountered from U.S. Thanksgiving until Christmas, the New Year and the second half of the NHL schedule will arrive with a glimmer of optimism. With a 5-2 home win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, the Leafs reached the 20-win mark, beat a playoff pursuer in regulation and bagged back-to-back wins for just the second time this month.

Jonathan Bernier, tuning up for the Winter Classic against the Red Wings, made 41 saves on the relentless Canes while Tyler Bozak returned to first-line centre with three assists. The Leafs can now enjoy a bit of the festivities leading up to the Classic and the anticipated record crowd of 107,000. If the Leafs can keep on topic, they can use Wednesday’s game to close the gap on Detroit for third spot in the division and put more distance between them and the Eastern Conference pack.

Coach Randy Carlyle sounded like he just wants the whole four-day carnival to be done, apart from the 60 minutes of the game.

“As you know, I wasn’t waving the pom poms on this to start with,” Carlyle said. “It has been a trying time. We’ve not played as well as we could. That puts added pressure on. We’re under the microscope more with (the Toronto media), then you add HBO and the event itself.

“But we’re here to win and the most important focus will be on the game. Your family and the people you surround yourself with, they’ll be the ones enjoying the game.”

Bernier said he had no idea if Carlyle will start him, but you can bet he’ll break out those brown pads he tested the other day, meant to replicate the old leather brand from the Original Six era.

“Most Canadians and Americans in here all played on the ponds and the backyard rinks,” said defenceman Paul Ranger, who scored against Carolina and picked up his 100th NHL point in the process. “This is just a bigger backyard rink.”