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After slow start, Maple Leafs roll over Panthers

by Joe Yerdon

TORONTO -- The play of 2009 first-round pick Nazem Kadri has both enthralled and exasperated the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nights like Thursday are the kind that show why they've been patient with him.

Kadri assisted on three goals to help the Maple Leafs rally from an early two-goal deficit to beat the Florida Panthers 6-3 at Air Canada Center on Thursday night.

Toronto trailed 2-0 after goals by Nick Bjugstad and Sean Bergenheim in the game's first 13:50. Kadri and James van Riemsdyk assisted on Cody Franson's goal at 16:49 that cut the deficit to 2-1 before the Leafs went ahead to stay thanks to a fast start in the second period.

"Offensively, [Kadri] was a difference-maker tonight," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "That's probably the best game he's played in a long time. He was at both ends of the rink and obviously with the points and distributing the puck, that was making some big-time plays."

Mason Raymond and van Riemsdyk scored 31 seconds apart in the opening minute of the middle period to put Toronto ahead to stay. Raymond's goal came 27 seconds into the period and van Riemsdyk followed with a power-play goal by tipping Phil Kessel's shot past Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen.

Toronto (29-21-6) blew the game open by scoring three times in the third period.

Nikolai Kulemin gave the Maple Leafs a 4-2 at 4:00 when he one-timed a pass from Lupul past Clemmensen for his eighth goal of the season. Kadri had his second assist of the game on that goal, and the line finished with six points.

"I think that there's been a fit with [Kulemin]," Carlyle said. "It seems that [Kulemin] is a better right winger and Lupul is a better left winger which is kind of mind-boggling at times. … We played them there last year and they played very well together and it seems to have revived a spark in all three of them."

Kadri's assist on Kulemin's goal was the 100th point of his career. He has 12 points in the past eight games.

"It's something that's in the back of your head," Kadri said. "Obviously it's a great achievement for myself but, hopefully there's lots more to come."

Lupul made it 5-2 at 6:22 on the power play by taking a pass from Kadri in the left circle and firing a shot over Clemmensen's shoulder for his 16th goal of the season.

Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov cut the lead to 5-3 with 5:31 remaining when his point shot went through traffic in front of the net to beat Bernier, but Tyler Bozak's 10th goal of the season with 1:23 to play put the game away.

Florida allowed six goals for the second time in as many games. They lost 6-2 to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday and finish a four-game road trip against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"There's too many goals scored against us, that's for sure," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "We've got to move forward here. We've got to be able to get better in a lot of little areas where we're doing really well. We had the chances in the first period 8-to-1 and they scored on it."

Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier stopped 35 shots. Clemmensen made 26 saves for Florida (21-26-7). The Maple Leafs are 8-1-1 in the past 10 games with four more remaining before the Olympic break.

"I think it's good to get a break and reset the button and take care of your body for those little injuries you have," Bernier said. "Then after that you have, what, 20 games before the playoffs so we've just got to make sure we're smart about our break and take care of our body."

The Panthers got on the board first when Bjugstad deked and put a backhander over Bernier's blocker at 1:39 of the first period for his 12th goal of the season. Bjugstad broke in alone after a quick pass from the boards by Scottie Upshall.

Bergenheim made it 2-0 at 13:50 when he scored on a give-and-go with Brad Boyes for his 13th of the season.

Franson cut the lead to 2-1 with his fourth goal of the season. His wrist shot from the point got through traffic in front of the net and past Clemmensen.

"I just tried to get it through the seam and luckily it found the back of the net," Franson said. "It was a start for us and we were able to get moving after that."

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