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Maple Leafs fall to Panthers

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs


TORONTO (CP)- Brandon Pirri scored twice as the Florida Panthers kept their slim playoff hopes alive Thursday with a 4-1 win over Toronto, adding to the Maple Leafs' seemingly endless misery.

The loss was the seventh straight for Toronto (27-42-6), which is a shocking 6-28-3 in 2015.

Roberto Luongo delivered a solid performance in goal and Jonathan Huberdeau, Steven Kampfer and Pirri scored second-period goals to put Florida (34-26-14) in front. Pirri added a late empty-netter for his 20th of the season.

Toronto's Jonathan Bernier was given the hook with 5:26 remaining in the second period after yielding three goals on 16 shots. The Leafs No. 1 goalie has been pulled seven times this season.

Toronto showed some jump in the third and Sam Carrick scored his first NHL goal midway through the period, thanks to a beautiful Morgan Rielly rush and setup.

Once again there were plenty of empty Air Canada Centre seats although the crowd was an announced at 18,831 which is officially a sellout. Capacity for hockey is considered 18,819. Monday's 2-1 loss to Minnesota before an announced crowd of 18,366 was the second non-sellout of the season and the smallest Leafs ACC crowd ever.

The Panthers started the day five points back of Ottawa and the second Eastern conference wild-card spot. Florida faces the Sens on Sunday after a Saturday stop in Montreal.

The road trip ends Tuesday in Boston, which stands between the Panthers and Senators.

Leafs fans could be forgiven for wondering who half of the players in uniform were. Centres Nazem Kadri, Peter Holland, Trevor Smith and Zach Sill were all out of the lineup.

It took Toronto 6 1/2 minutes and a power play to get its first shot on net. Still the Leafs had more quality chances in the first period with Luongo having to be sharp.

The top line of James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel had six of Toronto's nine shots in the period. But Florida's top line of Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr turned the tide in the second.

The Panthers came out with more purpose, reaping the rewards as Huberdeau and Kampfer scored 30 seconds apart. Huberdeau's 11th of the season, a high accurate wrist shot at 4:23, was followed by defenceman Kampfer's blast from a tight angle. Barkov assisted on both goals.

Florida hit the crossbar soon after and Luongo robbed van Riemsdyk from in-close before Pirri made it 3-0 later in the period with a low shot to chase Bernier.

Luongo was beaten late in the period but it didn't count given Bozak swiped it in with his glove.

It was game No. 1,542 for the 43-year-old Jagr, who picked up his 1,793rd career point with an assist. It was his 75th career point against Toronto.

The evening marked the debut of newly signed Penn State forward Casey Bailey. He lined up with Joakim Lindstrom and Carrick on the Leafs' fourth line, seeing limited action.

Toronto recalled forward Greg McKegg from the AHL Marlies earlier in the day on an emergency basis with Sill and Smith nursing injuries.

A young fan in the sixth row got Pirri's stick as a souvenir when Richard Panik chopped it over the boards late in the game. Panik got a 10-minute misconduct for his benevolence. There were boos when an usher retrieved the lumber, although there seemed to be some negotiations taking place.

The teams last played March 3, when an ailing Luongo left and then returned to relieve injured backup Al Montoya. They Leafs won 3-2, snapping a franchise-record 16-game road losing streak. They have not recorded a regulation win since.

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