First-place Panthers pay visit to struggling Leafs
PANTHERS (29-20-12) at MAPLE LEAFS (29-26-7)
TV: FS-F, SNET-O
Florida 5-4-1; Toronto 2-7-1
The Panthers have won the previous two meetings between the clubs, including a 5-3 decision on Dec. 27 in Sunrise. In that most recent triumph, Brian Campbell had 3 assists and Jose Theodore made 29 saves.
The Panthers, winners of two straight, continue jockeying for top honors in the Southeast Division with the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals. A victory on Sunday enabled the Panthers to regain first place in the division with 70 points with three games in hand on second-place Winnipeg. Now the team needs to continue its winning ways if it has any intention of taking the third seed in the Eastern Conference and earning home ice for at least one round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Stephen Weiss, the franchise's leader in games played, scored a pair of goals and added an assist in a 4-2 win victory the Montreal Canadiens at the BankAtlantic Center on Sunday. After losing three straight games against Montreal to end last season, the Panthers have won three games against the Canadiens this season. Sean Bergenheim and Brian Campbell also scored for Florida and Scott Clemmensen made 18 saves. Prior to the opening faceoff, Weiss was honored in a pregame ceremony for breaking the Panthers' record for games played (614) on Thursday. His parents, Karl and Linda, and brother, Jeff, were in attendance.
"It's awesome for them to be here. It means a lot to me and them," Weiss said. "It's nice to get that win and a couple goals for them."
Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, perhaps the struggling Leafs can focus on the matters at hand by snapping out of their recent slide in order to qualify for the playoffs. Toronto is 1-7-1 in its last nine contests. The Maple Leafs dropped a 4-2 decision to the Washington Capitals on Saturday and meet Florida in the finale of a four-game homestand. The club has fallen behind 2-0 in the past four games -- all losses.
"It is a tough time of year for guys playing in a big market like this and hearing [trade] stuff day in and day out," captain Dion Phaneuf
said. "But it's part of the business and we've all been through it. We're going to come back with the right attitude and we've got to win hockey games; that's the bottom line."
Florida goalie Jose Theodore has allowed two goals or less in his last six appearances, including five starts, since missing four games with a knee injury to begin the month of February. Despite a 2-2-1 record over that span, he's posted a .939 save percentage those games. … Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel
has recorded at least one point in nine of 12 games in the month of February, including 5 goals and 14 points.
Florida is still without forwards Marcel Goc (lower body), Matt Bradley (concussion), John Madden (lower body), Marco Sturm (knee) and Scottie Upshall (sports hernia surgery), as well as defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (knee).
The Panthers are 10-2-2 against Canadian opponents this season. … Toronto was charged with 16 giveaways in its loss to the Caps on Saturday and is second in the League with 735 giveaways.
Florida's 3-2 comeback victory over the Carolina Hurricanes marked the ninth time this season the Panthers scored with less than five minutes left in regulation to earn a win or force overtime (6-0-3). Forward Wojtek Wolski, who was acquired in a trade with the Rangers on Saturday afternoon, forced the OT against the Hurricanes when he scored with just 1:47 left in regulation.