Being under .500 usually prevents a team being concerned about first place. Residing in the mediocre Southeast Division has allowed the Florida Panthers to do just that.
The Panthers look to win three straight for the first time in six weeks as they continue a five-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
While Florida (24-25-5) has an unimpressive record, it's been enough to stay within three points of Carolina and Atlanta for the Southeast lead. The Panthers, tied with Buffalo and Washington for 11th in the Eastern Conference, haven't made the playoffs since 1999-2000.
"The nice thing about it is we're three points out of first place in our division," Panthers coach Jacques Martin told the team's official Web site. "We've got to win games. This road trip is huge for us. Other teams keep winning. We have Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and Buffalo and we need to get points."
Florida opened its trip Saturday by rallying for a 3-2 victory at Tampa Bay. Tomas Vokoun had another strong performance with 44 saves, and Olli Jokinen and Richard Zednik scored third-period goals as the Panthers improved to 3-1-1 in their last five games.
"I think we've got to find a way (to be) a little bit tighter defensively," Vokoun said. "It didn't hurt us tonight. We have to play better, there's no question about that."
Vokoun is 3-1-1 with a 2.33 goals-against average in his last five starts. He has made at least 40 saves four times during that span.
Vokoun also has made four career starts against Toronto, allowing two goals in each appearance while going 2-1-1.
|Florida Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun has made at least 40 saves in four of his last five starts. (AP Photo/Rick Silva)
Already dealing with injuries to several players, the Panthers lost right wing Radek Dvorak for four to six weeks after he suffered two broken fingers Saturday. He joins forwards Jozef Stumpel (shoulder), Ville Peltonen (foot) and Rostislav Olesz (hand) and defenseman Mike Van Ryn (wrist) on the sidelines.
"I thought we'd be getting some people back, but there's nothing we can do about it," Martin said. "We've got to find ways to win as a team."
Toronto (21-24-9), one of two teams behind Florida in the East standings, hopes to build on Saturday's 4-2 victory over Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa.
Carlo Colaiacovo scored the tiebreaking goal in the third period, and the Maple Leafs didn't commit any penalties in ending a three-game losing streak (0-2-1).
"We weren't going to let anything get in our way," Colaiacovo said. "When they tied it early in the third, we were still up on our bench and we believed we were going to win this game. From the first minute to the last minute, it was just a heck of a game by all of us."
Injuries have also been a problem for Toronto, which is without forwards Alex Steen (shoulder), Alexei Ponikarovsky (shoulder), Chad Kilger (personal), Mark Bell (orbital bone), John Pohl (ankle) and Nik Antropov (suspension) and defenseman Bryan McCabe (hand).
Antropov, second on the team with 41 points, will serve the second game of a three-game suspension for throwing his stick in the direction of officials at the conclusion of Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina.
The Leafs have won three straight and seven of nine meetings with the Panthers, including a pair of one-goal victories this season.
Toronto captain Mats Sundin has four assists this season against Florida.