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Panthers proud of win against Maple Leafs

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After a disappointing road trip that damaged the Florida Panthers' hopes of getting into Stanley Cup Playoff contention, they bounced back with perhaps their most impressive performance of the season Tuesday at BB&T Center.

The Panthers recorded a season-high 48 shots on goal when they beat the streaking Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1.

"It was a big effort," forward Scottie Upshall said. "It was a full, all-around, 60-minute game. We wanted to bring the pace and we wanted to come out and give our best game to see where we are. Tonight we proved to ourselves that we can play against any team."

Tom Gilbert, Jesse Winchester, Shawn Matthias and Marcel Goc scored for the Panthers, who were coming off a four-game road trip that ended with three losses, including 6-3 at Toronto on Thursday. Florida was outscored 16-6 during its three-game slide, which also included losses against the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It was probably our best game of the year," Matthias said. "It was an exciting game for us. We owed them one. We're all happy about it and we'll think about it for the rest of the night and then on to the next one."

Tim Thomas finished with 20 saves and was within 10:29 of Florida's first shutout of the season. Brian Campbell had two assists.

Thomas, who didn't play in either of the Panthers' first two games against Toronto, was 2-5-0 with a 3.70 goals-against average during his past seven starts, having allowed at least three goals in each.

Every skater had at least one shot on goal for Florida, which ended up outshooting Toronto by 27. It was the Maple Leafs' worst shot differential of the season.

David Clarkson, back in the Toronto lineup after missing eight games with an elbow injury, scored his fourth goal of the season. Nazem Kadri extended his point streak to six games (three goals, seven assists) with an assist.

The Maple Leafs were 9-1-1 in their previous 11 games.

Thomas and the Panthers were able to shut out Phil Kessel, who came in with nine points in his previous four games and on Monday was named the NHL's Second Star for January and for the games of last week.

Jonathan Bernier made 44 saves and was the reason the Maple Leafs trailed only 1-0 getting outshot 37-12 in the first two periods.

It was a rather uninspiring showing by the Maple Leafs, who are having their annual trip with the players' fathers.

"The word to describe it is, we didn't have anything going except one person in the lineup is outstanding for our hockey club and that was our goaltender," coach Randy Carlyle. "We didn't seem to have any jump or passion to play the game, and it's kind of mind-boggling right now."

Florida has won two of three meetings this season, with the final game scheduled for April 10 here. The Panthers won 3-1 at Air Canada Centre on Dec. 17.

The Panthers, who came in 14th in the Eastern Conference standings, dominated from the start. Florida held Toronto without a shot for the first 7:19 and ended with a 19-4 advantage in the first period, the Maple Leafs' worst single-period differential this season.

"We were just standing around and they were jumping by us," Carlyle said. "It was like we weren't in the hockey game at all."

Gilbert opened the scoring at 1:14 of the second period with Florida's second goal in 53 power-play opportunities. He scored his third goal of the season with a slap shot from the point that barely missed Upshall, who was standing in front of Bernier.

"The chances have been there," Upshall said. "We've been emphasizing traffic in front of the net. [Gilbert] put a great shot. He's a great player, plays with his head up. I saw his head up. When you stand right in front of the goalie, he's going to pick a corner. I thought the goalie just couldn't see it. It was perfect."

The Panthers had two breakaways in the second period, but Bernier stopped Jonathan Huberdeau's deke attempt and Upshall's wrist shot.

Winchester made it 2-0 at 5:21 of the third period when Campbell's wrist shot bounced off him in front of the net.

Clarkson scored after Kadri stole the puck from Tomas Kopecky at the Florida blue line. Kadri skated in deep before dropping a pass to Clarkson, who beat Thomas with a low shot to the stick side at 9:31.

"When you score a goal like that and you have a couple shifts where you're moving the puck and getting the puck into their zone, we've shown we're a team that can come back from that," said Clarkson, who played 16:30 and finished with a game-high seven hits.

Matthias restored Florida's two-goal lead at 13:22 after stealing the puck from defenseman Cody Franson at center ice. Matthias beat Bernier with a wrist shot low to the stick side.

Goc scored an empty-net goal with 2:30 left.

"There's no excuse for the way we played," Toronto forward Mason Raymond said. "We've had a few tough games this year but nowhere near this bad. We'll do a little reflecting on it, but this is one we'll flush pretty quick.

"We were flat from the start. Thankfully [Bernier] wasn't or it would have been worse."

Toronto's two games before the Olympic break are Thursday on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Saturday at home against the Vancouver Canucks.

Florida plays Thursday at home against the Detroit Red Wings and Friday on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I thought we skated really well tonight," Campbell said. "When we skate well, we're a good team. It's just we have to have our energy at the top every night.

"Obviously we're a ways away. We're trying to get up there. We need to win, win in bunches. Hopefully we can finish this pre-Olympic break strong here."

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