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Surging Maple Leafs welcome in Panthers

by Eric Goodman
PANTHERS (29-31-11) AT MAPLE LEAFS (26-34-12)

Last 10 -- Florida 5-4-1; Toronto 7-2-1

Season series -- This is the fourth and final meeting between the Panthers and Maple Leafs this season. The clubs split the two games played in Florida, while Toronto won 3-2 in regulation on Jan. 5 at Air Canada Centre.

Big story -- Toronto is stuck in the basement of the Eastern Conference, but it has won three in a row and six of its last seven games overall. The Leafs are also within striking distance of the Panthers, Hurricanes, Islanders and Lightning for 11th-14th place in the conference with just 10 games remaining, which would allow them to avoid finishing in last place in the East for the first time in franchise history. Toronto moved from the Western to Eastern Conference beginning in the 1998-99 season.

Team Scope:

Panthers -- The playoffs appear to be almost out of reach for the Cats, but they will definitely fight hard in their remaining 11 games in order to keep hope alive. To start, the Panthers ended a three-game losing streak (both at home and overall) with a 5-2 victory over the Lightning on Sunday. But it might be too little, too late for Florida as it still trails the eighth-place Boston Bruins by seven points for the final playoff berth in the East.

Despite the uphill battle facing Florida, Coach Peter DeBoer said after practice Monday that his team is determined to win and he will stick with the hot goaltender down the stretch. He confirmed that Tuesday's starter will be regular backup Scott Clemmensen, who made 29 saves in Sunday's win.

Maple Leafs -- Toronto won its second straight shootout on Sunday against Montreal and will be seeking to extend its current winning streak to four games. The Leafs will also look to prolong a six-game home winning streak. Although Toronto's playoff aspirations are lost for this season, it continues to grind it out with one of the youngest rosters in the NHL.

"We're seeing that some of these kids, they look like they can play," coach Ron Wilson said after Sunday’s game. "They're playing in live fire situations right now against teams that are really battling. The points are huge for these teams we're playing."

Who’s hot -- Right wing Nathan Horton has five points (2-3-5) over his last four games for Florida. … Phil Kessel has nine points (6-3-9) over his last seven games for Toronto.

Injury report --
Florida center Gregory Campbell suffered a sore foot after a blocked shot on Sunday, but DeBorer said he is day-to-day and will be present for the Cats’ upcoming three-game road trip. … Toronto defensemen Mike Komisarek (shoulder surgery) and Mike Van Ryn (left knee surgery) are on injured reserve and out for the remainder of the season.

Stat pack -- The Leafs have averaged the most goals against in the Eastern Conference this season with 3.26.

Puck drop --
This isn't a game that will have much of an effect on the standings, but neither Florida nor Toronto will be taking it lightly. Many of the younger players will be showcasing their skills in hopes of making next season’s rosters.
"It's their first time getting those opportunities -- it's not like you get to a point where you've been mathematically eliminated and all of a sudden some of your guys show up and relax and start playing," Wilson said on Sunday in regards to the Leafs playing clubs with playoff hopes down the stretch. "These guys are basically playing for their jobs and it's fun to see how hard they compete."

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