TORONTO -- Fear Florida?
The idea sounded ludicrous. The Panthers were the worst overall team in the NHL. They had lost eight of their last 10 games. They were so banged up that their roster read like a who's who of the American Hockey League.
No, you do not fear Florida. But after playing back-to-back games against the mighty Boston Bruins, in which the Toronto Maple Leafs picked up a surprising three out of a possible four points, there was a fear of possibly taking Tuesday night's opponent lightly.
Those fears were briefly realized in the first period, but the Leafs, who have picked up points in each of their last six games, came alive in a 3-2 win.
Joffrey Lupul, who was reunited on a top line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak, scored twice in the third period as Toronto's top line combined for six points. Goalie Ben Scrivens, who made his first start in five games, stopped 40 shots for the win.
In some ways, this game was just as important -- if not more so -- than the two games against Boston. The Leafs were not expected to beat the Bruins. Against the Panthers, they were. This represented an easy two points. And with four weeks remaining, there is not a lot of these left on the schedule.
Of Toronto's final 14 games, only four are against non-playoff teams. Give up two points here and the sixth-place Leafs lose their cushion and make life more difficult for themselves in the final four weeks.
"Well, we need the points. We're in the home stretch right now," Lupul said prior to the game. "Obviously this team doesn't have the skill of Boston or the veterans that Boston throws at you, but we're expecting them to come out here and work. They've been here in Toronto for a couple of days resting, preparing to play the game, so we expect a good level from them and we'll have to match it."
Just as Lupul predicted, the Panthers came ready to play. The Leafs, meanwhile, seemed ready to lose. For most of the first period, the ice was tilted in Florida's favour as Toronto struggled to get the puck out of the defensive zone. The Panthers quickly took a 1-0 lead at 6:39 on a Tomas Fleischmann pass that redirected in off Leafs defenceman Mark Fraser's skate.
It was a lucky goal, but considering that Florida outshot Toronto 16-7 in the first period, it was also a bit deserved.
In the second period, Mikhail Grabovski fell on a breakaway, which seemed to sum up how the game was going for Toronto. But then head coach Randy Carlyle shuffled the forward lines and the team found its legs.
Dion Phaneuf tied the game midway through the second on a slap shot that found the top corner. And after Lupul and Jonathan Huberdeau traded goals 22 seconds apart in the first minute of the third period, Lupul added the game-winner on another passing play from Bozak and Kessel.
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