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Match Preview: Maple Leafs vs. Panthers

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs


TEAM UPDATES

Jonathan Bernier will return to the crease tonight as he makes his third consecutive start for the Leafs. He was in goal for Saturday night's shootout loss in Montreal and was named the second star of the game for his efforts with 31 saves in the loss.

Olli Jokinen is slated to make his Leafs debut against the Panthers. He remains the franchise's all-time leader in points (419), goals (188) and game-winning goals (36). He is slated to skate on a line with Leo Komarov and David Clarkson.

"He's a veteran guy, he has played over 1200 games, he's played in a lot of situations," said Leafs coach Peter Horachek on Jokinen. "I'm looking forward to him being excited about being back in the middle and providing his leadership as a strong, veteran player in the middle of the ice."

Trevor Smith is expected to miss tonight's game with an injury that held him out of practice on Monday. Either Sam Carrick or Brandon Kozun will take his place in the lineup.

The Panthers will be without defenceman Dimitry Kulikov for the next four games as he was assessed a suspension for a hit on Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin. Panthers captain Willie Mitchell could return to the lineup in his place. He has been out of the lineup since Feb. 5 with an upper body injury.

Roberto Luongo is expected to get the start in goal for the Panthers. He is 16-7-0 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 26 career games against the Leafs.

RECENT RESULTS

The Leafs played a solid team game on Saturday and took the Eastern Conference's top team, the Canadiens, to a shootout but ultimately couldn't earn the bonus point up for grabs. The shootout loss gives Toronto a 1-7-2 record in their last 10 games.

The Leafs are 16-12-0 in 28 home games this season.

The Panthers come into tonight's game following a 2-1 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Bjugstad scored the lone Florida goal while Luongo stopped 32 shots for the Panthers who ultimately couldn't fend off the Blues in the shootout. The Panthers find themselves in the midst of a three-game winless streak in which they have scored two goals — both from Bjugstad.

Tonight's meeting will be the second of the season for the Leafs and Panthers.

LAST MEETING

The Leafs and Panthers played their first game of the season immediately after the Christmas break as the Panthers used a big third period to earn a comeback win.

Toronto got goals from four different players to jump out to a 4-2 lead, but the Panthers scored four in the third to earn the 6-4 win. James Reimer made 28 stops in the loss while Roberto Luongo saved 18 to earn the win.

Joffrey Lupul was named the third star of the game with a two assist performance.

ONE TO WATCH

Nick Bjugstad

Bjugstad has emerged as a star for the Panthers this season. The big-bodied centre leads the Panthers in scoring with 35 points in 55 games and has been the only Panther to record a goal in their last three games.

At 6-foot-6, 218 lbs, he is a tough player to handle for opposing defenders and has the ability to bully his way through the offensive zone. He has also seen success against the Leafs in his young career with five points in six games.

As a 22-year-old, Bjugstad figures to be a key player for the Panthers for many years to come. If they are to continue to have success on a game-to-game basis, he will need to lead the way as the team's top centre.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Here are tonight's projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Panthers...

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

21 van Riemsdyk - 42 Bozak - 81 Kessel

26 Winnik - 43 Kadri - 18 Panik

47 Komarov - 11 Jokinen - 71 Clarkson

20 Booth - 24 Holland - 67 Kozun

Defence

44 Rielly - 46 Polak

51 Gardiner - 55 Holzer

12 Robidas - 8 Granberg

Goaltenders

45 Bernier

34 Reimer

Florida Panthers

Forwards

36 Jokinen - 27 Bjugstad - 12 Hayes

11 Huberdeau - 16 Barkov - 24 Boyes

14 Fleischmann - 63 Bolland - 19 Upshall

82 Kopecky - 17 MacKenzie - 22 Thornton

Defence

51 Campbell - 5 Ekblad

3 Kampfer - 44 Gudbranson

74 O'Brien - 72 Petrovic

Goaltenders

1 Luongo

35 Montoya

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