Skip to Main Content

Panthers stay atop Southeast with win over Leafs

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers have been able to maintain their lead in the Southeast Division lately despite struggling offensively. There's no such problem, though, when the opponent is the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Panthers wrapped up a dominating four-game season sweep of the Leafs with a 5-2 victory Tuesday night, as Jason Garrison tied Florida's record for defensemen with his 15th goal of the season and added an assist.

The Panthers ended up with five goals in each of the four games against Toronto. In their other 65 games this season, they have only five games with at least five goals.

"I can't explain against the Leafs what the difference is," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "Sometimes during the course of the season you find a way to get a team's number. Very fortunate for us this has been one of those teams. There’s other teams … we beat the Rangers early and then they spanked us three in a row. The thing flip-flops a little bit, but it's nice being on the good side of those, that’s for  

Over their last 42 games, the Panthers have reached five goals three times — all against the Maple Leafs.

The Florida power play also comes to life whenever Toronto is the opposition. The Panthers scored twice with the man advantage Tuesday and another goal came 1 second after the end of another power play.

It was only the third time in 34 games the Panthers scored more than one power-play goal, and all three were against the Maple Leafs.

Florida's power play had been 1-for-17 in March before the 2-for-6 performance against Toronto.

"We knew the power play needed to (create) the momentum, if not some goals," Garrison said. "We kept things simple and just tried to put pucks on net and we were able to create some stuff out there."

Sean Bergenheim scored a pair of goals (including an empty-netter) for the Panthers, who stayed atop the Southeast Division with the victory. Florida has a one-point lead over Washington, a 5-4 shootout winner against the Islanders, with a game in hand.

Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky each had a goal and an assist, and Wojtek Wolski had two assists.

Jose Theodore, making his fifth consecutive start, stopped 26 shots.

"Theo had to play a very strong second period because the guys in front of him were extremely sloppy," Dineen said. "We made it a very easy game for Toronto. Toronto looked very good against us in the second period, and deservedly so. That's what we call self-inflicted wounds that you let them keep coming at you because you have bad decision-making and your goaltender certainly bailed you out tonight."

Theodore, who blanked Carolina on Sunday, had his shutout streak ended at 121:06 when Tyler Bozak scored with 57.1 seconds left in the second period.

The goal ended a drought of 196:26 for the Maple Leafs, who avoided being shut out three consecutive games for the first time since 1926 and only the second time in franchise history.

Mikhail Grabovski added a power-play goal for Toronto with 6:10 left in the third period, and Clarke MacArthur had two assists.

James Reimer, back in the net after Jonas Gustavsson started the last six games, made 22 saves.

"I felt pretty good," Reimer said. "For having not played in a while, I felt better than I thought I would. I felt prepared, felt ready. It was just unfortunate the way it went."

The loss was the Maple Leafs' 15th in their last 17 games (2-13-2) as they saw their slim playoff hopes continue to dissipate. Toronto is now 10 points behind eighth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference standings.

Toronto, playing the second game of a season-long five-game road trip, dropped to 1-4-1 since Randy Carlyle replaced Ron Wilson as coach on March 2.

"We're sticking together and it's something we're going to go through together," said defenseman John-Michael Liles. "It's a great group of guys. It's just something you have to battle through together."

Garrison tied the record when he gave Florida a 2-0 lead at 14:43 of the second period, 1 second after the end of a Panthers power play.

The other Panthers defensemen to score 15 goals in a season were Jay Bouwmeester, who did it twice, and Bryan McCabe.

Garrison scored off a pretty give-and-go with Goc when he redirected Goc's hard pass from the top of the right circle. The puck never left the ice and beat Reimer to the stick side.

"It was cool," Garrison said. "It was something that we worked on a little bit. We were just lucky that it paid off as soon as it did."

Garrison's assist came on Kopecky's power-play goal at 6:07 of the third period that gave Florida a 3-1 lead. Kopecky tipped Garrison's slap shot from the point in the middle of the ice. It was Kopecky's first goal in 23 games.

"I saw Garry shooting and I saw he didn't line up that much, so I just went in there," Kopecky said. "Fortunately, it hit my pants and went in. I think it hit my stick, too. I don't know what the guys are saying, it was only pants. I'll take those. That's why I have those pants strapped down."

Goc scored another power-play goal at 10:28 after Wolski intercepted a pass near the Toronto blue line. Goc came in alone on Reimer with Kopecky at his side and scored with a wrist shot high to the glove side.

Toronto came into the game ranked 29th in penalty killing, but was a perfect 10-for-10 over its previous six games.

"The frustrating part for us is that where we took the penalties is unacceptable," Carlyle said. "You can't take penalties in the offensive zone and give the opposition opportunities to seize the momentum.

"Penalty killing has been one of our strong suits in the last little while and it sprung a leak tonight."

Bergenheim opened the scoring only 59 seconds in when he banged home a rebound after Mikael Samuelsson deflected Keaton Ellerby's wrist shot from the point. His empty-netter helped him set a career high of 16 goals, topping his previous high of 15 with the Islanders in 2008-09.

Bozak scored Toronto's first goal since defenseman Carl Gunnarsson beat Brad Thiessen in the second period of last Wednesday's 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh. After Theodore stopped Clarke MacArthur's wrist shot from the wing, Bozak beat Garrison to the rebound in front of the net and put the puck home.

In the first 30 seconds of the third period, Bozak had a great chance to tie the game at 2-2, but he missed a wide open net when he couldn't cleanly one-time MacArthur's pass across the front of the net.

In the Maple Leafs locker room after the game, Liles was asked whether he had ever experienced a stretch of only two victories in 17 games before.

"Unfortunately I have," Liles replied. "And it's worse the second time around."
View More