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Maple Leafs want to build momentum for playoffs

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After suffering a 5-2 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs held an optional morning skate at BB&T Center in preparation for their game against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

A total of 15 players, including captain Dion Phaneuf and second-leading scorer Nazem Kadri, went on the ice.

The surprisingly large turnout could be attributed to two important reasons.

First and foremost, the Maple Leafs still have a shot at passing the Montreal Canadiens for fourth place in the Eastern Conference and getting home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Second, the Maple Leafs want to build some momentum entering the playoffs after losing three of their past four games.

"It just shows that the guys are willing to work to get back to where we were," Kadri said. "I don’t think we're far away from that. It's something that's very easy to correct, but at the same time we've got to be willing to work and execute the game plan."

Toronto, which clinched its first playoff berth since 2004 by beating the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, can finish anywhere from second to eighth in the East -- they still have an outside chance to finish first in the Northeast Division if they win their last two games and the Canadiens and Boston Bruins lose all of theirs in regulation.

By beating Florida on Thursday night, Toronto will guarantee itself of finishing no lower than seventh in the East. If Toronto beats Florida on Thursday and the Montreal Canadiens lose their road game against the Winnipeg Jets, Toronto would wind up fourth with a regulation win against Montreal at Air Canada Centre in the regular-season finale and get home-ice advantage for a first-round matchup against the Canadiens.

"Those things are standing front and center," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "I don't think you can hide from it, it's right there. But our mantra has always been we're going to deal with it one game at a time, and the most important game is the game we play tonight. That's what we can control. I look at this and challenge our group as this is a bounce-back game. We'll be judged on our response here tonight."

Since a 9-1-4 run from March 16 to April 15, the Maple Leafs have gone 1-3-0 and allowed five goals in each of the losses.

The game against the Panthers will be their second since the Maple Leafs clinched their playoff berth.

"It's an exciting time," defenseman Michael Kostka said. "In the meantime, we've got two points that we've got to pick up and do our best to put ourselves in the best position possible.

"Last night we didn't play like we wanted to, but hopefully we can change that tonight and have some good momentum leading into the playoffs."

Here are the projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Panthers:


James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel

Joffrey Lupul - Nazem Kadri - Nikolai Kulemin

Jay McClement - Mikhail Grabovski - Leo Komarov

Clarke MacArthur - Joe Colborne - Matt Frattin

Dion Phaneuf - Carl Gunnarsson

Michael Kostka - Ryan O'Byrne

Mark Fraser - Cody Franson

James Reimer

Ben Scrivens

Scratched: D John-Michael Liles, RW Colton Orr, LW Frazer McLaren, LW Ryan Hamilton, D Jake Gardiner

Carlyle said there probably would be some lineup changes for the Maple Leafs on Thursday, but did not elaborate. … Reimer started in net for Toronto against Tampa Bay and he's expected to start again against Florida, considering that Scrivens was the only goalie on the ice Thursday morning.


Jonathan Huberdeau - Marcel Goc - Tomas Fleischmann

Tomas Kopecky - Nick Bjugstad - Peter Mueller

Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille

Quinton Howden - Drew Shore - George Parros

Brian Campbell - Alex Petrovic

TJ Brennan - Mike Weaver

Filip Kuba - Tyson Strachan

Jacob Markstrom

Scott Clemmensen

Injured: D Erik Gudbranson (upper body), D Dmitry Kulikov (upper body), D Ed Jovanovski (hip), RW Kris Versteeg (knee), C Stephen Weiss (wrist), G Jose Theodore (groin), LW Sean Bergenheim (groin), LW Eric Selleck (upper body)

Markstrom was the first Panthers goalie off the ice after their morning skate and likely will get the start. He is coming off a 36-save performance in a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. … Strachan, who has missed the past four games with an upper-body injury, will be back in the Florida lineup, but Gudbranson will miss his fourth consecutive game because of an upper-body injury. … Howden should be back in the lineup after missing the game against the Rangers because of illness. … Defenseman Colby Robak and center Scott Timmins, recent call-ups from San Antonio of the American Hockey League, were taken off the Florida roster.

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