All of the sudden, the Florida Panthers six or so week masquerade as a team with a shot (albeit a long one) at making the playoffs appears to be over. After getting blown out 6-2 in Boston on Tuesday, the Cats got torched again, this time falling 6-3 to the Toronto Maple Leafs last night at the Air Canada Centre.
Nazem Kadri dished out three helpers and James van Riemsdyk notched his career-high 22nd goal, and also added an assist, to power the Leafs to the win, raising the club's record to a blistering 8-1-1 over their last ten games.
The Panthers actually got off to a good start in this one. Nick Bjugstad took a tidy little feed from Scottie Upshall and beat Jonathan Bernier on the backhand just 99 seconds into the game. Drew Shore also picked up an assist on the big rookie's 12th goal.
Sean Bergenheim went top-shelf later in the frame, from Brad Boyes and Scott Gomez, to make it 2-0 for the Cats, who seemed to be on their way to another win at the ACC.
Unfortunately, the Buds got on the board a few minutes later, when defenseman Cody Franson fired a long shot off the post past a helpless Scott Clemmensen. Clemmensen finished the game with 26 saves and fell to 6-5-1 on the season.
The goal sparked the Leafs, who promptly came out of the dressing room to score twice in the first 58 seconds of the middle period.
Mason Raymond sliced through three Panthers and easily beat Clemmensen to the tie the game at the 27-second mark, and after Gomez was called for high-sticking, van Riemsdyk tipped home a power-play goal to give Toronto the lead.
The Cats had plenty of chances to tie in the second, they fired 15 shots at Bernier, but couldn't dent the twine. Boyes had the Leaf keeper dead to rights late in the frame but caught the crossbar.
Kadri set up two goals in a 2:22 span in the early stages of the third to give the Buds a big cushion and put the Panthers away. Nikolai Kulemin found the net at the 4-minute mark, and then Joffrey Lupul lit the lamp with Toronto on the power play thanks to a Brian Campbell hooking minor.
Dmitry Kulikov scored for the second game in a row to pull the Cats within two with 5:31 remaining, but Phil Kessel fed Tyler Bozak four minutes later to complete the scoring and make it a laugher.
In my last recap, I wrote that the Panthers needed to tighten up in their own end or the Maple Leafs would put another six-pack on them. They didn't and the Buds came out and did exactly that. The Cats bucked their trend of getting off to bad starts to grab a two-goal lead, but they let the Leafs seize momentum by scoring twice in the first minute of the second. The final score didn't exactly tell the full story, as the Panthers were in the game, only down a score, after two periods. Unfortunately, the effort in the third was severely lacking, allowing Toronto to end up making it five goals in a row before Kulikov found the net to stop the bleeding. The bad news is the Panthers have given up a whopping sixteen goals so far on the road trip, with the defense crumbling and the goaltending showing some cracks. The good news is they have a chance in Columbus to quickly right the ship, finish off the four-game trek at .500 and remain on the periphery of the wildcard hunt. A solid display of fundamentals and old-time hockey will be needed against the much-improved Blue Jackets.
Odds & Ends
- After being pretty lackluster offensively for most of the season, Dmitry Kulikov has a suddenly hot hand with four goals in his last seven games.
- Epic fail for the Cats on special teams last night. The power play (0-for-5) got back to doing nothing after finally clicking against the Bruins, and the PK unit allowed two goals on three opportunities.
- Panther-killer Phil Kessel didn't find the net, but he did finish with two helpers to push his assist total to 30.
- After not scoring a goal in his last eighteen games, Tomas Fleischmann was benched for the first time since joining Florida. The last time Flash scored was against the Leafs, so maybe Peter Horachek should have waited one more game.
- Jonathan Bernier ended up stopping 35 shots to post his 19th win of the season. The former King lowered his GAA to a solid 2.61.
- Brad Boyes' assist gave him a club-leading 25 points, the lowest number among team scoring leaders in the NHL.
- If you're already feeling a bit like Pinocchio this morning after two-straight blowout defeats, go get your strings pulled by the Leaf fans over at Pension Plan Puppets.