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Panthers start trip with win against Maple Leafs

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- The Florida Panthers weren't thoroughly pleased with their play Tuesday but they were thrilled with the result.

"It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it," Florida general manager Dale Tallon said after the Panthers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 at Air Canada Centre.

Florida (25-19-12) trails the Boston Bruins by two points for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

"We know what the standings are all about, but we're trying not to look at it too much," Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. "We're just focusing on our job. There's a lot of road ahead of us and we don't want to think about the big picture now. We just want to keep getting better as a team. It's exciting, though, to be a part of the playoff race now, that's for sure."

The Panthers lost three of their previous four games, two by one goal and one by two goals.

"I don't know if we were struggling," Florida center Dave Bolland said. "We had a few losses, but I thought we played pretty good against [the Nashville Predators, a 3-2 shootout loss Feb. 8] and [St. Louis Blues, a 2-1 shootout loss Sunday] and we didn't get any bounces. Tonight we did the right things. We kept the puck moving north and we won the game."

Toronto (23-30-5) is 4-21-2 in its past 27 games.

With Florida's top scorer Nick Bjugstad in the penalty box for tripping Toronto's Richard Panik, the Maple Leafs took a 1-0 lead. Center Tyler Bozak scored his 16th goal of the season from directly in front of the net on a tic-tac-toe passing play at 4:03 of the first period. James van Riemsdyk had an assist for his first point in eight games.

The Panthers tied it 1-1 with 46 seconds to go on a power-play goal. Maple Leafs defenseman Petter Granberg was sent off for interference, and 24 seconds later Jussi Jokinen scored his fifth goal of the season from the high slot.

Bjugstad scored his 21st goal of the season at 4:42 of the second period on a power play to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. Linemate Tomas Fleischmann circled the net with the puck and spotted Bjugstad at the other side. After a quick pass, Bjugstad beat Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier with a high snap shot.

Jimmy Hayes put the Panthers up 3-1 at 13:48 when he tipped a Brian Campbell shot from the left point past Bernier for his 17th goal of the season.

Phil Kessel scored a power-play goal with 50 seconds left in the third period, his 22nd goal of the season. Kessel has scored twice in five games after scoring once in 11.

The Panthers had one shot on goal in the third period and were outshot 29-17. Florida entered the game with the League's 27th-ranked power play but scored two goals.

"They were moving the puck around really well," Luongo said. "They made some good plays and scored some good goals. That was the difference for our team tonight. The power play came up huge."

Florida started a five-game road trip that continues Thursday at the Montreal Canadiens and includes games against the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks.

"It was our goal at the first of the year to be in the (playoff) race and we are in the race," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "We've just got to keep working hard. When we're playing good hockey we have a chance to beat anybody. We have proven that the past few weeks. The guys are working hard; we're getting great goaltending and we're finding a way to win."

Center Olli Jokinen debuted for the Maple Leafs after being acquired Monday in a trade with the Predators. Jokinen played 16 shifts totaling 10:37 and had one shot on goal. The 36-year-old veteran has been assured by the Maple Leafs they will try to flip him to a playoff-contending team before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 2.

"The one thing I have noticed here being here the past two days is a lot of negative energy around here," Jokinen said. "As a team we've got to find a way to bring the positive energy. You've got to have pride. Once we put the jersey on, you've got to find a way to play for the logo."

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