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Desperate Leafs visit struggling Panthers

by John Kreiser
MAPLE LEAFS (31-30-10) at PANTHERS (28-33-9)

TV -- SNET-Ontario (HD); FS-Florida (HD

Last 10 -- Toronto 4-3-3; Florida 3-5-2

Season series -- It's the fourth and final meeting this season, with the home team winning each of the first three. The Leafs haven't been to South Florida since losing 4-1 on Nov. 10.

Big story -- The Leafs keep nudging a little closer toward the top eight in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They were outshot 37-19 on Wednesday at Carolina, but got big nights from captain Dion Phaneuf and rookie goaltender James Reimer to beat the Hurricanes 3-1 and move within four points of eighth-place Buffalo. They visit a Florida team that's all but out of the race after a 3-2 home loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs -- Before Wednesday's game, there was conjecture that coach Ron Wilson might sit Reimer and start veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere against the Hurricanes. Wilson lifted Reimer in Monday night's 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay, but said he had no intention of sitting a supposedly tired Reimer against the 'Canes -- and was rewarded with a 36-save performance and a much-needed two points.

"If I don't play Reimer, I'm an idiot, so let's leave that rest," Wilson said. "Reims isn't tired -- he's going to have some nights where he's not as good as he is on other nights. That's like everyone in this League."

Panthers -- Florida is all but assured of an NHL-record 10th consecutive season without a trip to the playoffs. The squad that lost to the Flyers includes 10 players who've been called up from the AHL this season. Florida led 2-1 after one period, but allowed two second-period goals and couldn't recover.

"You're not going to play mistake-free," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "No one likes that we're not winning but you can't deny they're giving an effort out there. That's all a coach can ask."

Who's hot -- Phaneuf had 2 goals and an assist in the win at Carolina and has 3 goals and 5 points in a four-game scoring streak. … Florida's Stephen Weiss scored Tuesday and has 3 goals and 6 points in eight games this month. Tomas Vokoun has allowed just one goal on 72 shots in winning his last two games against Toronto.

Injury report -- The Maple Leafs played without Colby Armstrong after he broke a foot blocking a shot Monday. Defenseman Mike Komisarek left Wednesday's game with a lower-body injury and didn't return. Forward Colton Orr (head) is still out and may not be back before the end of the season. … Florida's injury list includes Scott Timmins (concussion), Alexander Sulzer (upper body), Rostislav Klesla (leg) and Jack Skille and Shawn Mattias (ankle). Former first-rounder Jacob Markstrom had successful knee surgery on Wednesday and is expected back for training camp.

Stat pack -- The Leafs are 5-0-2 in their last seven on the road -- and play seven of their last 11 away from Air Canada Centre. … Florida has outscored Toronto 6-1 in winning the last two meetings at the BankAtlantic Center.

Puck drop -- Reimer said the benching in the loss to Tampa Bay served as inspiration for his performance at Carolina.

"To be honest, I had a little bit of extra motivation today because I had heard through the grapevine that Tampa Bay had said that something to the effect that I was just a typical Francois Allaire goalie and they knew how to beat me," Reimer said. ``I'm not going to lie -- that kind of rubbed me the wrong way and ticked me off.

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