If only the other 78 games in the season went like this. In the previous three games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Florida Panthers lit up Leaf netminders for five goals in each outing. So what better way to end to end the four game season series than with another five goal performance? Tuesday night at the Bank Atlantic Center, the Cats once again padded stats against the Leafs en route to a 5-2 win.
The Leafs came into the game losers of 14 of their past 16 and a two-game goalless drought so, this was a team the Panthers absolutely needed to beat and they did not disappoint. For the third straight game, the Panthers opened the game’s scoring, this time it was off the stick of Sean Bergenheim, who cleaned up some garbage in front of Toronto goalie James Reimer and potted his 15th of the season just 59 seconds into the game.
To the Leafs credit, at that moment, they could’ve rolled over but they tightened up for the rest of the first and outplayed the Panthers for much of the second period. But much of that effort went in vain as the Panthers doubled their lead at 14:43 when Jason Garrison flipped a Marcel Goc pass past Reimer after some brilliant interplay between the two. For Garrison, it was also his 15th goal, which equals a team season high for goals scored by a defenseman, At 19:02, the Leafs would finally get a tangible reward for their efforts when Tyler Bozak would put back the rebound of a Clarke MacArthur shot to cut the lead to 2-1. The goal ended a shutout streak for Jose Theodore that stretched all the way back to early in the third in Friday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, roughly 120 minutes.
Florida would get that goal back 6:07 into the third when Tomas Kopecky would break his extended goal drought by getting a piece of Garrison’s slap shot as it rocketed towards net to make it 3-1. The Panthers threw another shovelful of dirt on the Toronto a short time later when Wojtek Wolski would intercept a Carl Gunnarsson pass and leave it for Goc, who would wrist it over Reimer’s left shoulder for a 4-1 lead. Mikhail Grabovski would add a Leafs goal with six minutes to play but they would get no closer. Bergenheim’s empty netter at 18:40 would put the baby bed for the Panthers who have collected five out of a possible six points in their last three games.
Five different Panthers recorded two points in the game. Coming into this game, the Cats had only managed three goals in their past three so the extra outburst was a welcome sight, even though it was against a team that they have inexplicably dominated in every phase of the game on the season. The win allows the Panthers to keep their one point lead in the division as the Washington Capitals overcame a 4-1 deficit against the New York Islanders to win 5-4 in a shootout.
And, once again, it was a strong performance from Theodore, who has apparently become coach Kevin Dineen’s go-to guy in the crease. After a bad outing in Philly this past Thursday, he responded with three gems, allowing only three goals in the previous game. Many scoffed at his signing this past offseason and cited goaltending as a reason the Panthers would have a hard time reaching the playoffs but, with the way Theodore is playing, it might be the reason they make it in.
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