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Maple Leafs welcome in Panthers for Atlantic battle

by Brian Hunter

PANTHERS (21-25-7) at MAPLE LEAFS (28-21-6)


Last 10: Florida 5-4-1; Toronto 7-2-1

Season series: This is the second of four games between the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs. Scott Clemmensen made 28 saves and Sean Bergenheim had a goal and an assist to lead Florida to a 3-1 win in Toronto on Dec. 17.

Big story: James van Riemsdyk tied a career high and also provided the Maple Leafs with the winning margin when he scored his 21st goal of the season with 4:03 left Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he wasn't at practice Wednesday. According to coach Randy Carlyle, though, that's not a great cause for concern.

"Bumps and bruises and some maintenance issues but we feel he'll be available for us [Thursday]. He'll probably skate in the morning and we'll go from there," Carlyle told the Toronto media.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Only three teams have a better points percentage than Florida's .917 when leading a game after two periods. The problem is the Panthers have only been in that situation 12 times this season (11-0-1).

They've given up the first goal in 33 of their 53 games, and while they've shown an ability to fight back from deficits, such as in a 5-4 shootout win against the Detroit Red Wings to start their current road trip, they're 8-21-4 when the opponent scores first. The Boston Bruins got the first four Tuesday en route to a 6-2 win against their former No. 1 goalie, Tim Thomas.

"For a guy like [Thomas], who has done so much for us, we have to play better in front of him," forward Brad Boyes said in the Miami Herald.

Maple Leafs: In addition to van Riemsdyk's clutch goal, Toronto was also able to snap a minor two-game winless streak (0-1-1) and capture its third in a row at Air Canada Centre thanks to the heroics of forward Nazem Kadri and goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

Kadri staked the Maple Leafs to a two-goal lead by scoring twice in a 7:58 span of the second period on fine individual efforts. Even though Tampa Bay rallied to tie, Bernier still turned in a 40-save effort in what ended up a 3-2 victory. Bernier has won seven of the 10 games this season in which he's faced at least 40 shots.

"This is probably the first time [Bernier's] had to play the number of games he's played in his career," Carlyle said. "He's enjoying a strong season and it's a tribute to him. As we've stated before, our goaltenders have provided us with A-level goaltending all year."

Who's hot: Boyes has goals in consecutive games for the Panthers. Bergenheim has two goals and two assists during a four-game point streak. … Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel has seven goals and 10 assists in his past 10 games. Kadri has three goals and six assists in his past seven games.

Injury report: Florida forward Shawn Matthias (illness) was out of the lineup Tuesday. Forward Aleksander Barkov (knee) was placed on injured reserve, where he joins defenseman Alex Petrovic (upper body). … Toronto defenseman Tim Gleason (shoulder) left the game Tuesday late in the third period after hitting the boards hard and suffering a stinger, but he's expected to be available. Forwards Dave Bolland (ankle), Trevor Smith (hand) and David Clarkson (elbow) are on injured reserve, but all three practiced Wednesday. Smith, however, has an ailment from a post-practice workout, Carlyle said Thursday, and isn't ready to return.

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