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Maple Leafs crumble as Panthers stage methodical third period comeback

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Cats overcome porous middle frame with four-goal rally in the third.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers shrugged off a two-goal deficit and gave one of the NHL's most potent offenses a taste of their own medicine, coming up with four goals in the final frame to blow by the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 6-4 victory at the BB&T Center.

The Cats carried much of the play for the first two periods, but a spell of porous defending in front of goaltender Roberto Luongo allowed the potent Maple Leafs to take a 4-2 lead heading to the third.

After a scoreless first period that saw Florida outshoot the Leafs 13-3, Toronto got the game's first goal at 6:39 of the second when Richard Panik beat Luongo from the faceoff circle.

The Cats evened the contest less than two minutes later on Jonathan Huberdeau's fourth of the season. Huberdeau broke in on James Reimer and roofed a shot with Brian Campbell and Nick Bjugstad collecting the assists.

Florida struck again midway through the frame to take a 2-1 lead. Jimmy Hayes potted his tenth goal from Sean Bergenheim after the veteran winger found him open for a one-timer in the slot.

Uncharacteristically, the Panthers defense suddenly loosed up, allowing the Maple Leafs to score three straight goals in a 4:43 span before the end of the stanza.

Toronto forged a 2-2 when Joffrey Lupul found Roman Polak wide-open in slot and the defensman fired it home past Luongo.

The Leafs would take the lead back on a James van Riemsdyk power-play tally from in close and add to it 1:29 later when Nazem Kadri converted a nice pass from Lupul with the teams at even strength.

Florida got right back to work in the third, limiting the high-powered Buds to just five shots on goal while displaying a dangerously efficient offense for a change.

The Cats pulled within one when Dmitry Kulikov fired in his first of the campaign from the blue line with the lone assist going to Jussi Jokinen. Jokinen took the puck on the boards and was able to drop it back to Kulikov, who ripped it over Reimer's shoulder.

A similar play midway through the period saw Huberdeau find Willie Mitchell at the opposite point. After Mitchell tipped the puck off the boards to himself, he hammered it home through a screen to tie things up at four.

Florida took the lead at 16:45 with Cody Franson in the penalty box for hooking. Brad Boyes deflected a Kulikov shot past a shaken Reimer, with Aleksander Barkov providing the screen in front, for his sixth goal. Jokinen started the play to pick up his second helper of the night.

Scottie Upshall notched a rare empty-net goal, from Tomas Kopecky and Derek MacKenzie, with 1:25 to go to give the Cats some breathing room and close out the scoring.

The determined Panthers scored four goals on six shots to complete the comeback and capture a very important two points in front of the largest home crowd (17,877) this season. It was Florida's first win in regulation since they beat Buffalo 3-2 on December 6. To see the Cats show some killer instinct and bag the game-winner on the power play was particularly satisfying. The holiday homestand continues on Tuesday with the Montreal Canadiens visiting the BB&T Center.

Stocking Stuffers

  • The Maple Leafs entered the tilt boasting a 14-0-0 record when leading after two periods. So much for that...
  • Brad Boyes took first star honors after being scratched in the Panthers last game against the Penguins. Boyes' GWG was his only shot of the game.
  • Roberto Luongo made 18 saves to post his 14th win of the season. Luongo is 11-1 in his last twelve games against the Buds.
  • Tough night for Toronto's Cody Franson. In addition to being in the sin bin for the Boyes' goal, Franson went -3.
  • Nick Bjugstad's assist snapped a five-game pointless drought and gave him the team scoring lead with 20 points.
  • Coming into the game, the Panthers only had gotten a total of nine goals from its defense before Kulikov and Mitchell scored consecutive goals to forge the tie.
  • Pull the strings on your browser and hit up Pension Plan Puppets for more Cats - Buds.