Panthers @ Leafs

Panthers @ Leafs

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    The Leafs will be looking for their fourth win in a row (for the first time since February 2009) when they face off against ex-Leaf Scott Clemmensen and the Florida Panthers tonight.  Florida is one of the teams Toronto is trying to catch in its struggle to emerge from the Eastern Conference basement.  This should be a tightly contested matchup, as Florida fights to keep their playoff hopes alive and the Leafs look to win and come within three points of the Panthers.

    Toronto will also be looking to extend a home winning streak of six games, as their play of late has been the longest stretch of consistency this team has seen all season.  The Leafs have taken two of three so far against Florida, but will be playing against Panthers backup Scott Clemmensen for the first time this season.  The Panthers are scrambling to get within reach of the playoffs and are riding the hot goalie (Clemmensen made 29 saves for the win against the Lightning on Sunday).  While it’s a long shot (3.5% to be exact), Panthers coach Pete DeBoer says his team isn’t going to give in just yet, “We’re still in the hunt here. We’re not mathematically eliminated. The way we look at it, we’ve got to win maybe 10 or 11 in a row here. Stranger things have happened.”

    Florida is no stranger to winning games at the ACC, as they’ve done so in four of their last six trips to Toronto.  Because of this, the Leafs will need to get on the Panthers quickly, displaying their newfound energy and drive.  They’ve done so successfully in the past five games, scoring first in each of those and going 4-1.  By all accounts, Dion Phaneuf is leading this charge and our young team is finally finding their identity.  They’ve used their speed to forecheck, create turnovers, and capitalize on their chances.  The first line has been dominant as Phil Kessel (6 G, 3 A in his last 7 GP), Nik Kulemin (4 G, 6 A in his last 8 GP) and Tyler Bozak (3 G, 5 A in his last 6 GP) are all on fire.

    Of course, this young squad owes a lot of its recent success to much-improved defensive play.  This begins in goal, as both J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson have allowed Toronto players to finally have some confidence in their netminder.  While Giguere has made mistakes, his veteran poise has been on display as he remains calm and provides solid tending.  Moreover, Ron Wilson’s alternating of the goalies has worked wonders for Jonas Gustavsson.  The stressful carousel with Vesa Toskala in the early portion of this season always left him wondering if a mistake would relegate him back to the bench.  Now that Jonas knows he will play every other game, he has finally settled into a rhythm (crucial for any goalie’s success) and won his last five starts.  As expected, Giguere will get the call tonight.

    STATS
    71 GP 72
    29 W 26
    31 L 34
    11 OT 12
    69 P 64
    0.486 P% 0.444
    2.54 G/G 2.61
    2.82 GA/G 3.26
    15.2 PP% 15.5
    78.7 PK% 73.3
    29.0 S/G 32.9
    34.3 SA/G 29.7
    50.4 FO% 50.6


    Lineup Notes

    -Luca Caputi will step back into the lineup at the expense of Wayne Primeau

    -Jeff Finger will be a healthy scratch as Exelby stays in

    Forwards:

    Kulemin – Bozak – Kessel
    Stalberg – Grabovski – Caputi
    Mitchell – Hanson – Sjostrom
    Orr – Wallin – Lundmark

    Defencemen:

    Beauchemin – Phaneuf
    Kaberle – Schenn
    Gunnarson – Exelby

    Goaltenders:
    Giguere
    Gustavsson

    Nikhil has been writing for MLHS since the site launched in 2008. He misses talking about Mats Sundin and is currently entrenched in enemy territory (Boston) pursuing a doctoral degree. Contact Nikhil here: [email protected]

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