The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. In that year they were an overtime loss away from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, as a goal by Jeremy Roenick, ( a beauty of a goal) then of the Philadelphia Flyers, ended their run. This season, the Leafs have seemingly been a tale of three teams. One that started out of the gate fast and furious, two that slumped through the middle of the season, and now three. The team that is making a hard charge to make the post season.
Coming off a 3-1 win over Carolina last night, the Leafs now find themselves four points behind the Buffalo Sabres and two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes. Every game for them is a playoff game at this point. Toronto’s record in back to back games is 6-4-2, and they are 5-1-1 in their last seven of those.
Phil Kessel is playing some of his best hockey lately as he has 13 points in his last 11 games. The shame of being the last player drafted in the NHL All-Star game has apparently worn off. Kessel has 28 goals and 53 points to lead the Leafs in both categories. Correction, there is a 3 way tie for points at 53 with Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski.
Defenceman Dion Phaneuf has also come alive as of late. He has points in seven of his last 11 games and picked up two power play goals last night against the Canes. Dion has appeared to have turned up the music! An interesting stat for the Leafs is that seven of their next 11 games are on the road where they are 5-0-2 since February 11th.
Probably the biggest story out of Toronto this season has been the play of goaltender James Reimer. In 27 games Reimer has a record of 14-7-4, with a 2.62 GAA and a .921 save percentage. The rookie netminder has been a major reason for the Leafs recent success and playoff surge.
The Florida Panthers meanwhile are coming off a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night where it was more of the same. Hang in there, make a mistake and the other team took advantage of it. The opportunity to beat the Flyers was there for the taking in the third period when the Panthers had a two man advantagewith less than six minutes to play. However defenceman Dmitry Kuilkov took a horrible penalty, which negated the two man chance, and pretty much deflated any opportunity to tie the game.
The Panthers are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games, and are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings. They have lost two of three to the Leafs this season, but have outscored Toronto 6-1 in the last two meetings here at the Bank Atlantic Center. The Panthers are dressing a team that has many new faces, as well as players who have spend an enormous amount of time in the AHL this season. As expected their play has been spotty of late. Trying to gel with new linemates and new teammates is blatantly obvious.
One bright spot is the play of newly acquired Niclas Bergfors who has 3 points in his last four games. Playing on a line with Sergei Samsonov and Stephen Weiss the former number one pick of the New Jersey Devils, Bergfors is looking to make the most of his chances here.
The Panthers are 2-2-1 on this current seven game homestand with tonight’s game and Saturday’s against the New York Islanders coming up. A good crowd should be expected as the Leafs always are a good draw. I’ll be watching this from home.
The Panthers website gameday preview.
By the way, Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Year’s ago I dated an Irish gal who’s Dad would have six of these boys a night. For me, it’s Molson Canadian. Golden. Not green.
Guess he took the phrase literally. Tom, I hope your liver is in good shape!
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