MAPLE LEAFS (17-25-10) at PANTHERS (21-21-9)
Toronto 3-6-1; Florida 5-3-2
Third of four meetings this season. The Maple Leafs have picked up a pair of wins so far, 6-4 in Florida on Nov. 27 (Phil Kessel
and Niklas Hagman each scored twice) and 3-2 in Toronto on Jan. 5 (Jonas Gustavsson
stopped 29 shots). Defensemen Dmitry Kulikov
and Bryan McCabe each had two-goal games in losses for the Panthers.
As he gears up to play for the Czech Republic in the upcoming Olympics, goaltender Tomas Vokoun has been shining of late for Florida. He's allowed two goals or less in five consecutive starts and eight of his last 10, though he's won only half of those games. The Panthers have wasted each of Vokoun's last two tremendous efforts, falling 2-0 in New Jersey (the second Devils goal was an empty-netter) and 2-1 on Long Island in a shootout.
This is the finale of a five-game road trip on which Toronto is 1-2-1 so far. Even the victory was a bit of a fortunate one, as the Maple Leafs blew a three-goal lead in Nashville before Kessel scored late in the third period. More recently, the Leafs lost 3-2 in overtime to the Lightning. A penalty in the final minute of OT led to the game-winner by Martin St. Louis on the ensuing Tampa Bay power play.
"It's a tough break and a tough way to lose," said Matt Stajan, whose power-play goal had given Toronto a 2-1 lead in the third. "We worked hard to get a lead and we just can't make mental mistakes. We can't take penalties."
It's pretty incredible Florida is 1-1-1 over its last three games considering the Panthers have scored exactly two goals during that span. Vokoun made a Gregory Campbell tally stand up in a 1-0 win over the Thrashers. They were blanked by the Devils and then Nathan Horton had the lone goal against the Islanders on Thursday.
"The defense is pretty solid," blueliner Jordan Leopold said. "It's a matter of putting the puck in the net."
Kessel has a goal and seven assists during a seven-game points streak for the Leafs. Stajan has four goals and five assists in his last 10 games. Alexei Ponikarovsky has three goals and an assist in his last three games. Niklas Hagman has two goals and two assists in his last three games.
Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek
(shoulder) and Mike Van Ryn (knee) and forward Mikhail Grabovski
(wrist) are on injured reserve. … Horton left the game Thursday with a leg injury that Florida coach Peter DeBoer did not believe was serious. Defenseman Nick Tarnasky (lower body) and forwards David Booth
(concussion) and Kenndal McArdle (shoulder/arm) are on injured reserve.
Kulikov returned Thursday after missing 14 games with a knee injury. The 19-year-old rookie has three goals and 12 points while averaging 16 minutes of ice time per game on the Panthers' blue line. … Gustavsson is expected to start Saturday and would be seeking his 10th win of the season. "The Monster" leads Leafs goaltenders in victories, goals-against average (2.97) and save percentage (.901).
Florida will play seven of its remaining 10 games before the Olympic break on home ice, providing a prime opportunity to climb back into the top eight before the stretch run.