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Panthers stop slide with taut 3-2 win over Maple Leafs

The Florida Panthers opened a key five-game road trip with a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre last night. The victory pulled the Cats within two points of the Boston Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

As per usual, the Panthers got off to a slow start and a tripping penalty on Nick Bjugstad set the stage for the game’s first goal.

All five Maple Leafs touched the puck on the ensuing power play and Tyler Bozak got the goal, from James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri at the 4:03 mark. Bozak fired home from the slot after van Riemsdyk fed him with a pass from just below the goal line.

The Cats would reply later in the frame with a power-play goal of their own. Brad Boyes got all kinds of time and his sweet saucer pass found a waiting Jussi Jokinen, who one-timed the puck past Jonathan Bernier to tie the game. Brian Campbell drew the second assist on Jokinen’s fifth of the season.

Florida took the lead with another power-play early in the second period. After taking a pass from Bjugstad, Tomas Fleischmann dangled two Buds before rounding the net and finding the long, tall Panther in a white sweat in close for the conversion. The goal was Bjugstad’s team-leading twenty-first of the campaign. Dave Bolland also picked up an assist on the play.

Jimmy Hayes bagged the only even-strength goal of the tilt at the 13:48 mark to put the Cats up by two. Hayes deflected Campbell’s point shot off of Toronto defenseman Roman Polak and into the net for his seventeenth goal. Jokinen collected the secondary helper for his second point of the night.

The third period was all about Roberto Luongo. The veteran netminder came up huge as the Maple Leafs outshot the Cats by a colossal 16-1 margin.

Phil Kessel was the only one able to dent Brother Louie in the final frame. Phil completed the 12 parsec Kessel Run with 50 seconds left in regulation with Toronto on a power-play and Bernier on the bench for an additional attacker. The Leafs’ sniper beat Luongo short side for his twenty-second goal, with the helpers going to Kadri and Morgan Rielly.

The Cats will hit Montreal and Ottawa next before returning to the States and finishing the road trip in Pittsburgh and Chicago. Target Boston is in Edmonton tonight. Go Oilers!

Odds & Ends

  • Jussi won the battle of Jokinens over former Panther Olli, who played his first game as a Bud. Our Jokinen’s two points garnered First Star honors from the Toronto media. He is the fourth Florida player to hit the 30-point mark this season.
  • After firing 37 and 40 shots on goal in losses to Minnesota and St. Louis, the Cats only tested Jonathan Bernier 17 times and came up with three goals and a win. Hockey’s a funny game sometimes…
  • The Panthers are now 5-4-2 after snapping January’s season high, five-game losing streak. Might not sound that impressive, but past editions of the team would have crumbled instead of staying in the chase.
  • Fill-in defenseman Shane O’Brien and Toronto’s David Clarkson squared off towards the end of the second period. Clarkson left the game in the third after taking a shot in the leg.
  • The win was Florida’s fourth straight over the Maple Leafs, who are a ghastly 4-21-2 in their last 27 games.
  • Roberto Luongo finished with 27 stops and lowered his GAA to 2.38.
  • Toronto went a perfect 2-for-2 on the power play while the Panthers were a very efficient 2-for-5.
  • Former Maple Leaf draft pick Jimmy Hayes and Scottie Upshall led the Cats with 3 shots each.
  • For more on the game, check out Pension Plan Puppets.