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Panthers hope to start playoff push vs. Leafs

by Brian Hunter /

PANTHERS (22-22-5) at MAPLE LEAFS (19-25-5)


Last 10:
Florida 4-3-3; Toronto 4-5-1

Season series: Third of four meetings this season, with the teams splitting to this point by winning their respective home games. Colton Orr scored the go-ahead goal midway through the third period in Toronto's 3-1 victory on Oct. 26, while Florida rebounded with a 4-1 win on Nov. 10 as Michael Frolik finished with a goal and 2 assists.

Big story: It's back to work for a pair of teams that have their work cut out over these final months if they want to still be playing come mid-April. The Panthers understand their current .500 record won't be nearly good enough, as they sit eight points behind the Thrashers for the eighth and final playoff spot, while the Maple Leafs, who are 14 points back, really need to get on a tear.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Heading into the break Florida dropped five of six, but since three of those defeats came in either overtime or the shootout the Panthers still picked up five points. While a point here and a point there won't get them back into the race, coach Peter DeBoer remains optimistic when talking about what his players have accomplished.

"I like the worth ethic, the way guys are battling," he told the Florida Sun-Sentinel. "But we've left points on the table. That's the story so far. Since Christmas we've done a much better job of that, even when we lost we found a way to come out with points.

"That's the key to making the playoffs."

Maple Leafs: If Phil Kessel has any sort of chip on his shoulder from being picked last in the fantasy draft for the All-Star Game, then Toronto hopes he takes it out on the rest of the NHL now that he's back with the team. Kessel is second on the Maple Leafs with 19 goals, but he's been streaky and doesn't have one in his last seven games.

"Phil has two challenges," GM Brian Burke told the Toronto Sun. "He has to perform well, which he's done, and he has to fit in, which he has also done. He has done every piece of community involvement we've asked him to do. He's always the first to raise his hand, like that smart kid in grade school, when we need somebody to do something.

"Our challenge is to add some size and skill to our group to make it easier for him."

Who's hot: Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun is 2-1-2 with a .926 save percentage over his last five starts. ... Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer has a 4-3-0 record, 2.24 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in eight appearances since his call-up from the AHL Marlies.

Injury report: Florida forward Shawn Matthias suffered a right ankle injury in the last game before the break and is day-to-day. Defenseman Bryan McCabe had surgery to repair a broken jaw and will miss about a month. ... Orr (concussion) and fellow forward John Mitchell (knee) are on injured reserve for Toronto.

Stat pack: David Booth leads the Panthers with 14 goals and Stephen Weiss has a team-high 33 points. ... Mikhail Grabovski leads the Maple Leafs with 20 goals and Clarke MacArthur has a team-high 40 points.

Puck drop: Reimer's emergence means Toronto is currently carrying three goalies, although it's not expected to remain that way the rest of the season. There was talk Jonas Gustavsson could be sent to the AHL for a brief period to work on his game, though he would have to accept such an assignment to avoid being put through waivers. It's also possible a contending team in need of help in net could inquire about veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

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