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Young Leafs learning on the fly

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

It was another frustrating performance for the Maple Leafs tonight, despite a few bright spots.

One of those was Sam Carrick who scored his first NHL goal. The Stouffville, Ont., native took a nice feed from Morgan Rielly to put the Leafs on the board midway through the third period.

It was the Leafs only tally on Thursday night.

The start wasn’t so bad as the Leafs snapped a six-game streak of trailing after one period of play. The Leafs and Panthers were tied at no score going into the second period.

It wasn’t a slow start that did Toronto in. It was what ensued.

“The negative (play) started in the second period. I thought the first period was pretty good,” said Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek. “The second period we started turning pucks over, we were giving up odd man chances and obviously it led to their lead.”

Florida scored the opening two goals within 30 seconds of each other. First came a quick release from Jonathan Huberdeau. Steven Kampfer made it 2-0 shortly thereafter.

Ten minutes later, Brandon Pirri scored the first of his two goals, chasing out Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier.

At this point there really isn’t much left to do but focus on the future. Carrick’s goal was a nice glimpse of what might be a more regular occurrence in the building phases of next season.

“I kind of blanked out, after thinking about it, it’s a dream come true,” said Carrick about his first NHL goal. “I was a little bit surprised that the puck came out to me and I was just happy to put it in.”

While it was a first NHL goal for Carrick, it was the first NHL game for Casey Bailey. The Penn State alum played just under 12 minutes.

“His first game, I think he had a nice strong effort,” said Horachek. “He didn’t get a lot of chances but his effort was there, so I thought it was a positive first game.”

It was a mix of good and bad as far as special teams go.

After tonight, the Leafs have successfully killed off their last six short-handed situations. While that may not seem significant, remember the leafs PK has dropped to 17th in the NHL.

The power play continues to be an issue for Toronto, having scored just one time in their last 25 chances.

With seven games remaining, the Leafs are running out the season looking to the future. The Panthers were desperate for two points and got what they needed. Some favourable out of town results have Florida just three points out of a playoff spot.

“Right now we’re in playoff mode. Every game is so crucial,” said Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo. “These are moments that the younger guys are going to learn from and use going forward in their careers. At the same time, we believe in our team and we’re just going to keep plugging away and see what happens.”

Much like it is for the Panthers, it’s the younger Leafs who will learn a lot from games like this.

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