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Maple Leafs down Panthers to end road losing streak

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Toronto Maple Leafs finally won a game on the road Tuesday, but afterward they couldn’t help but feel some sympathy for their opponents.

Peter Holland broke a 2-2 tie at 5:28 of the third period and the Maple Leafs ended a franchise-record 16-game road losing streak with a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.

Holland scored on a backhand rebound against Al Montoya, who was forced into action after starter Roberto Luongo left the game after the first period. Montoya was then injured early in the third period but stayed in the game for more than 10 minutes before Luongo returned to finish out the game.

"In a way you feel bad for them,"???Toronto forward Joffrey Lupul said. "They’re in a tight playoff race and obviously having two goalies go down isn’t great for their chances tonight. Then again, we’ll take a win any way we can get it."

Holland scored after Montoya stopped David Booth’s shot from the slot. He skated around Montoya before flipping the backhand into the open net.

"I think if he was feeling 100 percent he would have gotten across the net there,"???Holland said. "That’s not typical Montoya, he’s usually pretty quick along the bottom there. They don’t ask how and I won’t ask how, either."

The Maple Leafs hadn’t won on the road since Jan. 31, a 4-3 shootout victory against the Boston Bruins.

Tyler Bozak ended the Maple Leafs’ scoreless drought at 163:18 when he scored on the power play at 4:40 of the second period. Toronto was coming off consecutive 4-0 shutout losses against the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals.

Jonathan Bernier made 40 saves for Toronto (26-33-5). He was particularly strong in the third period when he stopped all 17 shots he faced.

Bernier also was the only goalie to escape the game unhurt.

"That was definitely a weird game,"???Bernier said. "I’ve never been part of a game like that when both goalies get hurt and they had to pick the least hurt, I guess."

Brandon Pirri and Aaron Ekblad scored for the Panthers, who came into the game trailing the Bruins by two points for the second wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Pirri’s goal was his ninth in his past 12 games.

Ekblad’s goal was his 11th of the season, a franchise record for a rookie defenseman. The previous record of 10 was set by Ed Jovanovski in 1995-96.

"It’s obviously an honor,"???Ekblad said. "I’m not going to [downplay] that for any reason, but obviously we lost and that’s much more important. A???team game is what we’re all focused on here, especially coming down the stretch. We’re so close, yet so far away and we’ve got to realize that. It’s time to push and make sure we’re doing all the right things.

"We’re right there and not even close to happy about anything that happened tonight. We want to be in that playoff spot."

The Panthers (28-23-13) missed the chance to match their season-high three-game winning streak.

Florida is 2-2-0 on a season-long seven-game homestand that continues Thursday against the Dallas Stars.

Ekblad, who came in tied with Dallas’ John Klingberg for most goals among rookie defensemen, broke a 1-1 tie at 13:12 of the second period. With Phil Kessel in the penalty box for hooking, Ekblad scored on a one-timer from the point that he released while falling to one knee.

The shot went past Bernier to the glove side.

"I?????????guess I?????????kind of know how a goalie when the puck is redirected just a little bit,"?????????Ekblad said. "[Jonathan Huberdeau] made the pass out of the corner and Hayes just kind of tipped it a little bit just so he could get it through. I?????????thought it was going one way and then I?????????had to go the other way and shoot really quick and it was kind of off the back foot. That’s why I?????????had to go down on one knee."

Pirri opened the scoring with 17.9 seconds left in the first period when he took a centering pass from Hayes, and sent a shot from the slot past Bernier.

Bozak scored on the power play at 4:40 of the second when he put home a rebound after Montoya stopped Kessel’s shot from the wing.

Montoya was shaken up when Nazem Kadri tied the game 2-2 for Toronto when he collided with defenseman Brian Campbell. Montoya left the ice and play was stopped for several minutes before he returned.

There was another delay during a stoppage at 3:34 of the third when Montoya walked to the Panthers bench and had a discussion with a Panthers trainer, but Montoya again stayed in the game.

"I’ve never seen that," Maple Leafs captain Dion?????????Phaneuf said. "It’s unfortunate that both of their goalies were injured – you never want to see guys get injured – but it was the first time I’ve ever dealt with that in my career. We did a good job of staying focused. That was a big goal with [Kadri] to start the period. We stood in there and stayed focused and won the game."

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