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Maple Leafs look to even season series with Panthers

by Brian Hunter

MAPLE LEAFS (38-34-8) at PANTHERS (28-44-8)


Last 10: Toronto 2-8-0; Florida 2-8-0

Season series: This is the fourth and final game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers. The Panthers have won two of three, including a 4-1 win in the most recent matchup on Feb. 4.

Big story: When the Maple Leafs faced the Panthers in the penultimate game of the 2012-13 season, they were looking forward to their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a seven-season absence. This time around, Toronto will be playing its first game since being eliminated from postseason contention with a 3-0 loss Tuesday to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: Despite being in position to earn a playoff spot for much of the season, Toronto lost eight straight to end March. After winning two in a row to begin April, losses to the Winnipeg Jets and Lightning combined with a two-game win streak by the Columbus Blue Jackets ended their hopes.

"We went through the eight-game stretch where we just couldn't seem to get a win and we couldn't grab traction at a very critical time," captain Dion Phaneuf said in the Toronto Star. "That's where things went wrong for our team. Up to that point we'd played some real good hockey, pretty consistent for the most part. When we hit that stretch, that's ultimately what cost us."

Panthers: A young and building team, Florida has often struggled to put together 60-minute efforts. It showed in their most recent game, a 5-2 loss Tuesday to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Panthers played solidly in a scoreless first period, were lit up for four goals in the second and then came back to outplay the Flyers in the third with the outcome all but decided.

"It was a terrible second period and you can't expect to win when you play like that," defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who scored the Panthers' first goal, said in the Miami Herald.

Who's hot: Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel is two points from tying his career high of 82 set during the 2011-12 season. … Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau returned to the lineup with a goal Tuesday.

Injury report: Toronto forward Dave Bolland (ankle) didn't play Tuesday. Goalie Jonathan Bernier (knee) and forward Joffrey Lupul (knee) will miss the final two games. … Florida goalie Roberto Luongo (upper body) was a late scratch Tuesday, but will start Thursday. Defensemen Alex Petrovic (upper body) and Tom Gilbert (sports hernia) and forwards Tomas Kopecky (concussion) and Aleksander Barkov (knee) are out.

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