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Panthers rout Leafs 5-1 to end three-game slide

by Dennis Ryan
TORONTO -- For the second straight game the Florida Panthers jumped out to a 3-0 lead. This time they made sure that lead stood up.

Jose Theodore stopped 38 shots and five Panthers scored in a 5-1 defeat of the Toronto Maple Leafs in front of 19,414 at Air Canada Centre.

"The last game was a tough one but the good thing about this team is we have the character to forget about tough situations and just bounce back and that’s what we did tonight," Theodore said. "We weren’t nervous, we played the same way we started against Tampa but we played for 60 minutes the same way."

The win came two days after the Panthers led Tampa Bay 3-0 in the second period, only to allow the Lightning to tie the game in regulation and win 4-3 in a shootout.

This time, the Panthers led 3-0 after two periods and sandwiched third-period goals by Sean Bergenheim and Shawn Matthias around Phil Kessel's 11th of the season for Toronto.

Coach Kevin Dineen liked what he saw from his offense, especially since the top line of Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann was held off the scoresheet.

"We’ve relied fairly heavily on one group of guys and tonight when that gets spread out it not only makes everybody feel a part of it," he said. "It makes us more energetic that you’re able to roll those four lines and not worry so much about the matchups."

Jack Skille scored in the first period for the Panthers, and Marco Sturm and Tomas Kopecky beat Jonas Gustavsson 19 seconds apart in the second as the Panthers broke a string of three consecutive shootout losses. Theodore made 31 saves in the final two periods, including three huge stops in the third on Nikolai Kulemin with the score 4-1 and the Leafs trying to get back in the game.

"They came up with some more pressure at the end there, maybe caught us on our heels a little bit but we did a good job of just taking that pressure and continuing to make smart plays," Skille said. "Obviously Theo played out of his mind back there and that always helps."

Theodore stifled a Toronto club that has now lost back-to-back games at home by a combined score of 12-1. Kessel’s goal broke a scoreless drought of 137:59 as the Leafs, who had been near the top of the League in offense this season, have suddenly gone cold. To make matters worse, coach Ron Wilson had to pull his starting goaltender for the second straight game -- Gustavsson was replaced by Ben Scrivens after surrendering back-to-back second period goals to give Florida a 3-0 lead.

Afterward, Wilson tried to focus on the positives.

"What I take out of is how well we played in the second and third period," he said. "Their goalie made a number of big saves and unfortunately we didn’t get a save and that kind of sunk us. We’ve got to shore up our goaltending obviously and play the way we did tonight and more often than not the puck will go in the net. You’re going to win games that you shouldn’t and tonight we probably lost a game that we shouldn’t have."

With starter James Reimer still sidelined after a collision with Montreal's Brian Gionta more than two weeks ago, Gustavsson and Scrivens have to step up their play. Forward Joffrey Lupul is confident they are up to the task.

"I know those guys probably aren’t happy with the way they played, but a lot of us aren’t," Lupul said. "You win as a team and lose as a team. So it kind of goes hand in hand. We all count on each other and we’re not scoring enough goals for them right now."
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