After a tough week on the road, the Florida Panthers returned home and promptly snapped their three-game losing streak with an impressive 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. A swarming defensive effort limited the Buds to just 21 shots on goal, while the Cats offense fired 47 at Jonathan Bernier, and another into an empty cage.
Florida came out flying and completely dominated the first period, taking nine shots on goal before the Leafs finally got one on Tim Thomas. The Cats finished the period with a 19-4 advantage in shots, but could not dent Mr. Bernier.
Fortunately, all that hard work finally paid off just 74 seconds into the middle frame when Tom Gilbert ripped a rising shot past the Leafs goaltender with the Panthers on a power play. Brian Campbell and Jonathan Huberdeau combined to pick up the helpers.
Campbell would figure in the Panthers second goal when his shot deflected in off of Jesse Winchester to give the Cats a two-goal lead 5:31 into the third period. Scott Gomez collected the secondary assist with a nice drop pass to Soup.
Toronto got one back four minutes later, when Nazem Kadri stole the puck from Tomas Kopecky and fed David Clarkson who fired past Thomas. Clarkson redeemed himself for the slashing call that led to Gilbert's power-play goal.
The Panthers snuffed out any potential Toronto comeback when Shawn Matthias beat Bernier unassisted at the 13:22 mark after taking the puck from Cody Franson. It was Matty's sixth goal of the season.
Marcel Goc completed the scoring with his tenth, from Kopecky and Mike Weaver, into an empty net with 2:30 left on the clock to seal the deal.
After delivering an Oscar-worthy performance as road kill in their last three outings, the Panthers bounced back with one of their better efforts of the season last night. If it wasn't for a stellar performance from Bernier, this one could have easily been an utter rout. When all twenty Panthers show up and play hard, they are capable of beating almost anyone (except for Boston maybe) in the Eastern Conference. Why they don't do this more often remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The win pulled the Cats within 11 points of the Detroit Red Wings, who visit next on Thursday, for the last wild-card spot in the East. With only 26 games left on the slate, a playoff appearance seems highly unlikely, but if the Panthers can beat the Wings and keep this kind of hockey up after the Olympic break, they can definitely stay in the chase instead of becoming irrelevant the rest of the way.
Odds & Ends
- It was nice to see Jonathan Huberdeau so involved last night. In addition to the assist, he had three shots on goal, including one a breakaway, and got the best of Jake Gardiner in a second period tussle.
- Tomas Fleischmann also showed some signs of life, with four shots on goal, in one of his better performances lately.
- David Clarkson return to the Leafs lineup after missing eight games with an elbow injury to tally just his fourth goal of the year. Toronto isn't getting much ROI on this signing so far.
- Erik Gudbranson came within a whisker of adding to the Panthers' 2-0 lead in the third period. His shot hit the crossbar and hugged the goal line while in the air, but did not go over. The goal was originally allowed but was overturned by replay.
- Despite battling the flu, James van Riemsdyk managed to suit up for his 300th NHL game.
- Tim Thomas returned to form, stopping 20 of 21 shots, for his 15th win of the season.
- The loss was just the third in the last twelve games (9-2-1) for the Buds.
- The Panthers raised their record at the BB&T Center to 11-11-4. They need to play like that at home more often. Good teams that make the playoffs are better than .500 in their own barn.
- Despite the usual infusion of blue-clad Toronto fans, last night's announced attendance was only 15,583.
- For more on last night's action check out Pension Plan Puppets.