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Panthers eye sole possession of first place

Florida braces for Maple Leafs team with 'nothing to lose'

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

MAPLE LEAFS (27-37-11) at PANTHERS (42-24-9)


SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will attempt to take sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division when they face the Toronto Maple Leafs at BB&T Center on Tuesday.

The Panthers are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning atop the division with 93 points, but have played one fewer game.

Florida returns home after a three-game road trip that began with a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers but followed with victories against the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay by a combined score of 9-3.

The Panthers' final seven games are against teams currently out of Stanley Cup Playoff position.

"Sometimes those teams are the hardest teams to play against," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said after morning skate Tuesday. "They have nothing to lose, especially this team tonight. They have a lot of young guys that work hard and they have a lot of skill, so we definitely can't overlook them. It's a matter of keeping habits. We have to make sure we're keeping our good habits."

The Panthers will use the same lineup they used against the Bruins and Lightning, including having 2015 Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad and Brian Campbell pair up on defense.

Ekblad and Campbell were reunited for the Boston game after skating together all of last season and the start of 2015-16.

"We were maybe getting kind of stale a little bit," Campbell said. "Obviously I know how to play with [Ekblad]. I think our first game was average and then we got better last game. Just freshen things up and see what a change can do."

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson and center Derek MacKenzie again will sit out with foot injuries. MacKenzie will miss his eighth game and Gudbranson his seventh.

The Maple Leafs did not have a morning skate after losing 3-0 to the Lightning on Monday.

Goalie Jonathan Bernier is expected to start for the Maple Leafs after Garret Sparks allowed three goals on 18 shots against Tampa Bay in a game where Toronto had a 34-18 shot advantage.

The Maple Leafs were 0-for-7 on the power play and are 3-for-32 with the man advantage in their past nine games. They are 11-for-115 on the road.

Panthers coach Gerard Gallant will appear in his 300th game as an NHL head coach. Florida needs one win to tie the franchise record for victories in a season set in 1999-2000.

Florida has defeated Toronto twice this season by a combined score of 9-2. Forward Jussi Jokinen had a goal and an assist in a 5-1 win at BB&T Center on Jan. 26 and had two goals in a 4-1 win at Air Canada Centre on March 17. 

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, who is scheduled to start Tuesday, has allowed two goals on 56 shots. 

Here are the projected lineups:


Milan Michalek - Nazem Kadri - Michael Grabner

Zach Hyman - William Nylander - PA Parenteau

Brad Boyes - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown

Colin Greening - Brooks Laich - Ben Smith

Martin Marincin - Morgan Rielly

Jake Gardiner - Connor Carrick

Rinat Valiev - Frank Corrado

Jonathan Bernier

Garret Sparks

Injured: Leo Komarov (lower body), Peter Holland (upper body), Nikita Soshnikov (upper body), Matt Hunwick (sports hernia), James van Riemsdyk (foot), Joffrey Lupul (sports hernia), Byron Froese (hand), Stephane Robidas (knee), Viktor Loov (upper body)

Scratched: None


Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith

Jiri Hudler - Nick Bjugstad - Teddy Purcell

Garrett Wilson - Greg McKegg - Logan Shaw

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Dmitry Kulikov - Steve Kampfer

Jakub Kindl - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Injured: Dave Bolland (lower body), Derek MacKenzie (foot), Erik Gudbranson (foot), Willie Mitchell (concussion)

Scratched: Quinton Howden, Shawn Thornton

Status report: MacKenzie and Gudbranson took part in the morning skate and might be ready to return Thursday against the New Jersey Devils. … Mitchell, who hasn't played since Jan. 18, also took part in the morning skate. "Willie is working hard," Gallant said. "He's skating every day with us. If the opportunity comes up and he says, 'I'm ready to go' … we'll see what happens. He's working hard. He's come a long way, so that's the positive."

Who's hot: Bernier has allowed no more than two goals in each of his past five starts. … Trocheck has a goal in four consecutive games. … Jokinen has eight points (three goals, five assists) during his current five-game point streak.

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