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Maple Leafs end road woes with bizarre 3-2 win over Panthers

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Injuries force Cats to play musical goalies in frustrating loss.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

After scoring nine goals and winning the first two game of the Jaromir Jagr era, the Florida Panthers reverted to non-finishing form in a frustrating 3-2 loss to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs last night at the BB&T Center.

The Cats launched 42 shots at Jonathan Bernier, including 17 in the third period, but went the last 26:48 of the game without scoring, allowing the Leafs to erase a 2-1 deficit with two goals in the first 5:28 of the final frame.

Roberto Luongo started for the Cats and made 16 stops in a busy opening period. Luongo was drilled in the collar bone area by a Leo Komarov shot, but managed to finish the stanza before giving way to Al Montoya at the start of the second.

Despite getting outplayed for the most part, the Cats grabbed a 1-0 lead with 18 seconds left in the first. After taking a pass from Vincent Trocheck, a patient Jimmy Hayes took his time before feeding an open Brandon Pirri with a sweet dish. Pirri easily beat Bernier for his third goal in the last three games.

Early in the second period, the generous Panthers helped the Buds tie the game by taking a too many men on the ice penalty at the 3:42 mark. Ugh! Toronto's power play converted when Tyler Bozak knocked a rebound past Montoya, who seemed to have a bit of trouble tracking the puck. Phil Kessel and Morgan Rielly collected the helpers on Bozak's eighteenth goal.

The Cats would regain the lead at 13:12 with a power-play marker of their own. Aaron Ekblad did the honors, breaking Ed Jovanovski's franchise record for most goals by a rookie defenseman with his eleventh of the campaign. Jonathan Huberdeau passed to Hayes, who neatly deflected the vulcanized rubber to the rookie sensation for the EkBlast.

Things got really interesting, and really strange, just seconds into the third period. A needless Brian Campbell giveaway led to Toronto setting up camp in the Florida zone. Nazem Kadri, or Idina Menzel if you're John Travolta, corralled the rebound of Jake Gardiner's hard blast off the boards and stuffed it by Montoya to tie the game, running over the veteran backup in the process.

Montoya suffered the dreaded "lower-body" injury, reportedly a groin pull, and left the ice. Confusion reigned (note proper word usage here internet), with the press area and twitter-verse wondering wildly who would guard the Panthers' cage the rest of the way. Would it be center Derek MacKenzie or winger Scottie Upshall? Would it be former NHLer and current goaltender coach Robb Tallas? Would I get the Cinderella story call-up from Sunday Morning Pines Street Hockey?

After a long delay, Montoya returned to the ice and valiantly soldiered on. It was Tallas, not yours truly, who got to suit up as the club's emergency backup, pocketing an easy $500 for signing on the line which is dotted and donning the pads.

Montoya left the ice again during a stoppage in play a few minutes later to talk to the trainer. Panthers' GM Dale Tallon and a sharply-dressed Luongo were seen conversing near the club's bench area.

With a clearly ailing Montoya back in, the opportunistic Buds took the lead in short order. Peter Holland knocked in former Panther David Booth's rebound for his tenth of the season to put the Cats behind the eight ball.

After a hooking call on Kadri at the 9:08 mark, to everyone's surprise, Luongo returned to game to spell his troubled number two. The change seemed to re-enegerize the Panthers who peppered Bernier on the ensuing power play.

Unfortunately, the Cats would fail to come up with the equalizer, and the Maple Leafs ultimately left town with their first road win of 2015. The Panthers picked an absolutely terrible time to play streak-buster to a down and out team with nothing to play for. Florida remained two points behind the Boston Bruins, who now have two games in hand with the end of the season drawing ever closer.

Odds & Ends

  • The comeback win snapped Toronto's franchise-worst 0-14-2 skid away from Air Canada Centre.
  • The strange plot twist involving the goalies saw Roberto Luongo play 28:04 and stop all 19 shots he faced while Al Montoya turned aside 12 of the 15 shots he faced in 30:52 of action.
  • Tyler Bozak's second period goal ended a 163:18 drought for the Buds. Toronto came into this one after being blanked by Montreal and Washington.
  • Not that this matters much, but how in the world was Jonathan Bernier, who finished with 40 saves, not picked as First Star of the game?
  • The loss dropped the Panthers to 2-2 on this key seven-game homestand. If the Cats miss the postseason, being not good enough on home ice will be one of the main reasons why.
  • Erik Gudbranson and Derek MacKenzie each dished out five hits.
  • In addition his helper on Holland's game-winner, former Panther David Booth had a team-high five shots on goal.
  • The Panthers have scored 14 power-play goals in 20 post All-Star Break games.
  • Robb Tallas' last taste of NHL action was all the way back on February 19, 2001 in a loss to the New York Rangers when he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
  • For more on last night's chaos, check out Pension Plan Puppets.