The Florida Panthers were at a bit of crossroads heading into Tuesday’s contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bank Atlantic Center. A win was needed to keep the Cats from spiraling to their fourth consecutive loss in the midst of injuries to seven of their 12 forwards. The Leafs came into town winners of their last two (although, somewhat banged up themselves) and boast one of the best lines in hockey, statistically speaking. To avoid that, the Panthers needed a strong effort from every player in the home red sweater.
And they got just that as twelve Panthers tallied a point, led by Brian Campbell’s three assists, in the 5-3 win in front of a sold out BAC that had both teams almost evenly represented by fans. Erik Gudbranson’s blast from the point early in the game set the tone for the Panthers, who were coming off an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Bruins prior to the Christmas break. His goal would stand up as the only score of the first.
In the second, it didn’t take long for the Leafs to tie things up behind Mikhail Grabovski’s goal 2:11 into the frame. The tie would last exactly 19 seconds before Bill Thomas put a breakaway effort past James Riemer to give the Panthers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Thomas’s goal set of a three goal explosion over a 4:25 span that built a lead and chased Reimer back to the Toronto bench in favor of Jonas Gustavsson. During that time frame, Jason Garrison and Kris Versteeg would add power play goals. For Garrison, it was his 11th goal, the most by any NHL defenseman this season. And for Versteeg, it was his team leading 17th lamp-lighter, which also ties him 8th in the league. Dion Phaneuf shot from the right side would make things a bit tighter heading into the second intermission as he cut the deficit to 4-2.
Things would get even tighter in the third as Grabovski would cash in a mid-period power play to make it 4-3. But at 11:44 of the period, Tomas Fleischmann would end his 10-game goalless drought and effectively put the baby to bed with his 12th on the year to get the game to the final score of 5-3.
It was big game for the San Antonio Rampage call ups as they talled 5 points (including Thomas’ momentum-changing goal) and coach Kevin Dineen said they’re expected to perform like anyone else:
“The message sent to them is very crystal clear that when an opportunity comes up, you got to take advantage of it. There’s no off-nights when you’re trying to make an impression on people.”
One of those call ups, Michal Repik had arguably his best game in a Panther sweater. He tallied a game-high six shots and picked up an assist on Garrison’s goal (he was originally credited with the goal, but the call was switched by the league after the fact) and earned him the game’s first star honor. His effort, along with his other Rampage teammates, was a the big difference between winning and losing on this night, and not a moment too soon. Despite the rash of injuries, you can’t expect to lose every game while the rest of the roster gets healthy. This type of effort from secondary players is something that is needed every night, especially with the likes of the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers coming to town on Friday. No one is going to put hold this one up as a pretty game, but when you can get your call ups to help you win a game, it’s a thing of beauty.
You can check out the viewpoint of Tuesday’s game on our Maple Leafs blog: Editor In Leaf
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Tags: Bank Atlantic Center Bill Thomas Erik Gudbranson Florida Panthers James Reimer Jason Garrison Jonas Gustavsson Kris Versteeg Michal Repik Mikhail Grabovski New York Rangers Tomas Fleischmann Toronto Maple Leafs