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At the Rink: Panthers at Maple Leafs

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- Coach Gerard Gallant said his Florida Panthers cannot afford to be thinking about the past when they play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, TSN4).

The Panthers (33-26-14) trail the Ottawa Senators by five points for the second wild card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference, and allowed two third-period goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 4-3 loss Tuesday.

"It was a tough loss the other night," Gallant said. "We really wanted those two points. But hey, you move on. We know we're still in the race. We've got nine games left and we know we have to win eight or nine of them. You've got to worry about the next game, not the one you just played."

Following their game in Toronto the Panthers play against the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Boston Bruins, all on the road. Gallant said his team cannot afford to look beyond its game against the Maple Leafs, who have lost six straight (0-6-0).

"We've played a tough schedule all year," Gallant said. "We've come from 29th last year and we have worked hard and have competed every night. The last 17 games our team has played very well. We lost some tough games so we'll just keep playing well, and if the points come, that is great. If not, then worst-case scenario is after your last game you don't make the playoffs. We're going to work hard and compete hard. Until we're mathematically eliminated we're going to continue to work hard."

The Maple Leafs will have recently signed forward Casey Bailey in the lineup tonight for his NHL debut. Bailey, 23, had 22 goals and 40 points for Pennsylvania State University this season. He signed with the Maple Leafs on Sunday. He'll start on a line with Sam Carrick at center and Joakim Lindstrom at left wing. Bailey said he will have his mother, sister and girlfriend in the stands cheering for him.

"I feel good and obviously I'm excited," Bailey said. "It's pretty surreal; a dream come true. I'm calmer then I thought I'd be right now but I'm sure the nerves will start hitting me tonight when I walk in the rink."

Bailey said he plans to go out, finish his checks, work hard, and try to make an impression on the management of a team in transition. Toronto interim coach Peter Horachek said it is best when a player making his NHL debut keeps his game simple.

"There's no way of getting around the nerves when you are going to play your first NHL game," Horachek said. "It’s exciting and you want him to have that enthusiasm and excitement, but you don't want him to tighten up. You want him to understand the game, our systems and just go out and play."

Here are the projected lineups:

PANTHERS

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Brandon Pirri - Vincent Trocheck - Brad Boyes

Jussi Jokinen - Dave Bolland - Jimmy Hayes

Shawn Thornton - Derek MacKenzie - Scottie Upshall

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Willie Mitchell - Erik Gudbranson

Dmitry Kulikov - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Dan Ellis

Scratched: Tomas Kopecky, Steven Kampfer, Sam Brittain

Injured: Nick Bjugstad (lower body), Al Montoya (groin)

MAPLE LEAFS

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Joakim Lindstrom - Sam Carrick - Casey Bailey

Joffrey Lupul - Greg McKegg - David Booth

Richard Panik - Leo Komarov - Brandon Kozun

Jake Gardiner - Morgan Rielly

Eric Brewer - Dion Phaneuf

Tim Erixon - Andrew MacWilliam

Jonathan Bernier

James Reimer

Scratched: None

Suspended: Nazem Kadri

Injured: Zach Sill (upper body), Trevor Smith (lower body), Peter Holland (lower body), Nathan Horton (back), Stephane Robidas (shoulder), Roman Polak (sports hernia)

Status report: Thornton is expected to draw back into the lineup for the Panthers. If he plays, Tomas Kopecky could sit. … The Maple Leafs recalled McKegg from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis. … Reimer hurt his hand at the morning skate, but is expected to dress.

Who's hot: Barkov has points in four straight games. … Huberdeau has points in three of his past four games. … Bernier made 30 saves in a 2-1 loss against the Minnesota Wild on Monday.

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