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Taking On The Leafs

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Florida and Toronto close out their four-game series this season with a matchup in Sunrise, the second straight played at the BankAtlantic Center. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com


SUNRISE – The Panthers know the answers to their problems.

Winning the battles down low, getting a presence in front of the opposing net, aggressive forecheck, hard work.

Now they’ll try to execute those things and snap a four-game losing streak tonight when they host the Maple Leafs at BankAtlantic Center.

After losing Tuesday to the Capitals 3-0 and failing to get a shot on goal in the third period, the Panthers have had a refresher course the past 48 hours in all the things that made them one of the most consistent teams in the NHL since December. They’ll apply those factors tonight when playing a Maple Leafs team in search of their third consecutive victory.

“We know what makes us successful and we haven’t been doing it as of late,” said defenseman Bryan McCabe after Thursday morning’s skate at BankAtlantic. “We need to get back to the basics. Our team is hard working, hard forechecking, cycle team, and we just haven‘t been executing that lately.

“We still control our own destiny, which is where you want to be. We just need a big win tonight.”

Coach Peter DeBoer, who will go with the same lineup as Tuesday, said; “We’re very aware as a group of where we’re at in the standings and the position we’re in.”

The Panthers begin this evening ninth, three points behind eighth-place Carolina in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand. The good news is despite picking up just two of a possible eight points in the past four games, the Panthers remain in the heart of the playoff hunt.

It’s that playoff hunt that DeBoer believes should invigorate the Panthers.

“The excitement of being in the race, in the mix, that’s the goal,” he said. “You can’t let the pressure weigh on you. You have to embrace that pressure. This is playoff hockey a month before the actual playoffs start.”

DeBoer was once again quizzed about his short, 15-minute practice session Wednesday at IncredibleIce in Coral Springs.

“The message was we’ve tried to establish an identity this year here as a team that, on paper, isn’t going to out-talent a lot of people, but we’re going to have to win through team play and hard work and commitment. We just had a quick refresher on things we got away from.”

Said McCabe: “We need to get our battle level back up. We haven’t been competing as hard as we did in the past. That’s what makes up successful.”

The Maple Leafs, who were five games below .500 in February, are 29-29-13 and come into BankAtlantic riding a two-game winning streak. They came back from a 3-0 deficit Tuesday night to win in Tampa 4-3 in a shootout.

FROLIK AT CENTER

Michael Frolik will likely start tonight’s game at center between Cory Stillman and Rostislav Olesz. Frolik played center earlier this season for a couple games and spent two months at the position last season when playing for Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“It’s different playing here than juniors – the guys are stronger here – but I’ll do whatever I can,” he said.

Other lines at practice this morning: Stephen Weiss, Richard Zednik and David Booth, Brett McLean, Kamil Kreps and Nick Tarnasky and Gregory Campbell, Radek Dvorak and Ville Peltonen.

SCOREBOARD WATCHING

The Canadiens, three points ahead of the Panthers in seventh, play tonight at Ottawa. Come Friday night, Carolina (eighth) hosts the Islanders, Philly is at Buffalo and Pittsburgh plays hosts to the Kings.

With Nikolai Kulemin back in Toronto with his expectant wife, the Maple Leafs have called up Andre Deveaux from the Marlies of the American Hockey League. The 6-4 Deveaux had an assist and 75 penalty minutes in 20 previous games with the Leafs. He had 19 points (11 goals) in 28 games with the Marlies.

Deveaux will be part of a physically big line alongside Boyd Devereaux and Matt Stajan.

Coach Ron Wilson started practice Wednesday at BankAtlantic Center by getting his players to form a circle and having Jason Blake and Mikhail Grabovski skate in and hug each other. The two have been involved in two altercations at practice the past two months.

ROCHESTER NEWS

The Panthers have signed Matt Duffy, a senior defenseman from the University of Maine, to an amateur tryout. Drafted by the Panthers in 2005 in the fourth round (104th overall), Duffy had 17 points in 39 games with the Black Bears, who were eliminated Sunday from the Hockey East playoffs. Duffy, a four-year starter at Maine, scored five or his seven goals on the power play this season. Listed at 6-2, 210 pounds, Duffy is solid on the blue line and is known to deliver some heavy hits…Captain Rory Fitzpatrick underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia on Wednesday and will be out the remainder of the year. Wearing the captain’s ‘C’ in Fitzpatrick’s absence? Drew Larman…Michal Repik, who has two goals in five games with the Panthers this season, leads the Amerks in goals (18), points (42) and power play goals (nine)…The Amerks have 11 more games on the schedule, closing out the season April 11 at Syracuse. Their last home game is April 10 also against the Crunch…
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