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Panthers look to maintain hold on first vs. Leafs

by Pete Jensen
MAPLE LEAFS (30-31-8) at PANTHERS (32-23-13)


Last 10:
Toronto 1-7-2; Florida 5-3-2

Season Series: Tuesday marks the fourth and final meeting of the season between these Eastern Conference foes. Florida looks to sweep the season series, having outscored Toronto by a 15-7 margin in winning the first three head-to-head matchups.

Big Story: The Florida Panthers look to stay in the driver's seat of the Southeast Division when they welcome the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs to BankAtlantic Center on Tuesday. The Cats silenced the Carolina Hurricanes, 2-0, on Sunday to snap a two-game losing streak. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, allowed the Washington Capitals to stay within a point of the Panthers by dropping their fourth straight game Sunday at Verizon Center.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: Heading into their clash with Winnipeg on Feb. 7, Toronto occupied the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. But beginning with that contest, things have gone awry for the Leafs. With only two wins in their last 14 games, their playoff chances are dwindling by the day as the team gets set for the second game of its current five-game road trip.

While inconsistency in the crease has plagued the Leafs at numerous points this season, their recent pitfall has been their offense, which has mustered only six goals over the team's current four-game slide. Toronto has suffered consecutive shutout losses, with their latest defeat dropping them eight points behind the eighth-place Capitals.

"I believe that the teams that play better defense, usually the offense comes around," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We are starving for offense right now; we need a bounce to go our way. It's not like we are not creating quality scoring chances; we are creating them."

Florida opened up its four-game homestand with a bang as Jose Theodore turned in one of his most impressive outings of the season. Theodore stopped all 34 shots for his third shutout of the season as the Panthers used a goal by Tomas Fleischmann and an empty-netter by Marcel Goc to fend off the Hurricanes.

"When you look at the scoreboard and you're up by one goal, you know every save is big," Theodore said. "I was just seeing the puck well. The guys were playing well in front of me. At this time of year, it's all about competing and playing playoff hockey, and that's what we did tonight."

Who's Hot:
Jonas Gustavsson has struggled to find the win column during his stretch of six straight starts for the Leafs (1-4-1), but is picking up steam over his last two outings with a combined 48 saves on 50 shots faced. … Fleischmann has scored a goal in consecutive games for Florida, moving into a tie with Kris Versteeg for the team lead in both goals and points.

Injury Report: Joffrey Lupul has not played since March 6 due to a separated shoulder and remains out for the Leafs. … Florida is expected to be without Scottie Upshall (sports hernia), Dmitry Kulikov (knee), Matt Bradley (upper body) and Versteeg (lower body) against Toronto. Jack Skille (upper body) was out Sunday and is doubtful for Tuesday's game.

Stat Pack:
Jose Theodore's shutout Sunday marked his fourth win in as many tries against Carolina this season, making him the first Florida goalie to beat the Hurricanes' franchise four times in a season since Roberto Luongo in 2002-03.

Puck Drop:
If the season ended today, the Panthers would not only end the League's longest active playoff drought, but also capture a Southeast Division title. With Sunday's win over the Hurricanes, it became the latest date in a season that the Cats have led the division in franchise history.

"This was our goal, to be relevant going into the end of March, beginning of April, and that's where we're at," Florida coach Kevin Dineen told the Miami Herald.

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