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Joffrey Lupul

David Clarkson

It’s not time to sound the alarm, but the sense of urgency is heightened across Toronto.

The Leafs are still firmly in a playoff spot and, other than Detroit (who has three games in hand on the Leafs, but are also missing Zetterberg and, for the moment, Datsyuk), the 4+ point gap the Leafs have on everyone else is a much tougher hill to climb than it looks because of the “three point era” in the NHL. It’s extremely tough to make up ground at this stage of the season in this day and age.

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Jonathan Bernier

The eighth shootout win of the season (an astounding 36% of total Leaf wins) comes in unconvincing but much needed fashion.

There’s a couple of ways you could look at this one depending on how optimistic you want to be. The Leafs had a goal called off unjustly on a phantom goaltending interference call, which may have ensured a regulation win. On the other hand, the Leafs were outshot 38-25 and spent their typical extended spells snowed under.

Devils head coach Pete DeBoer was thrilled with his team’s effort in their third game in four nights, and thought the Leafs were lucky to emerge with the two points. He even used the word “robbed,” which is a bit rich considering the terrible call on the disallowed goal.

With how few and far between the points have been, the Leafs will take it and hope to build on two improved efforts versus the Capitals and Devils, at least over what we saw earlier in the week against Rangers, Islanders and Hurricanes.

Usually, HBO’s 24/7 beats the actual Winter Classic in fanfare and expectation. This year, it has simply been a welcomed preview. The Big House in Ann Arbour, Michigan gathered a record number of bodies (105,491 people), vastly exceeding 71,217 humans attending the first Winter Classic in 2008. After a tough 5-4 SO loss against the Wings on December 21st, the Leafs were due for a victory. Paul Ranger had the right idea, wearing the eye-paint of the tiger and looking very much up for a game which brought him and all those in attendance to the core of their love of hockey. We’ve all been waiting for this a long time, so let’s see how this one panned out.

1) The Leafs are 21-16-5 and this was a proper celebration of the game. Also, in the midst of the Classic it was confirmed that JM Liles and Dennis Robertson were traded to Carolina for a dependable shutdown defenseman Tim Gleason. Don’t expect miracles, but the defensive end of things should be somewhat bolstered by his presence. Now, let’s get to the on-ice happenings. Considering the standings, this was an important game for both teams.

2) The conditions certainly played a major part right from the start, and showering the goaltenders wasn’t really frowned upon as much with all the snow. Frequent breaks for ice cleanup offered a chance for some additional strategizing on the benches. Dump and chase was the name of the game as goalies weren’t advised to take field trips behind their net (Bernier didn’t seem to have any trouble in doing so, though). Also, the surface made it difficult for players like Datsyuk to take full advantage of their puck-handling skills offensively but a lot of it played into Detroit’s hands with the kind of ‘meat and potatoes’ style of play they employ which was obvious by the shot count after the opening frame. The first powerplay of the game came after Abdelkader crosschecked Phaneuf from behind in the corner and the Californian made ice/snow removers were once again called into action. A fresh sheet of ice didn’t help the Leafs who couldn’t really put anything dangerous on Jimmy Howard.

3) Like Healy noticed (or heard on 24/7) all Detroit defenseman are left handed shooters which made it difficult for their defense to handle the puck on their off-side, especially in conditions like these. Unfortunately, the Leafs didn’t take advantage of that throughout the opening period. The Wings got their first man advantage during the middle of the opening frame when Lupul took a revenge on Kindl’s hit by crosschecking Eaves into the head. Bernier had to be really sharp since the Wings’ powerplay didn’t look as lethargic – still, no goals were scored as Dan Cleary looked to the sky following another good save by the Leafs netminder. The period ended with some grit shown by the Leafs and another good penalty kill following an unfortunate penalty call on Dion.

4) The water bottles were a tougher opponent for the likes of Todd Bertuzzi today. The things were frozen solid and required frequent replacements to keep the goaltenders hydrated. As the second period played out, Nazem Kadri got absolutely robbed by Howard on the best opportunity of the game created by Joffrey Lupul. The kid was slamming his stick on the bench for missing that one. We also found out that the elements were no match for the greatness of Pavel Datsyuk who was still doing his thing in the second.

5) The middle frame saw both teams pushing the pace, but the majority of puck possession and chances still belonged to the Red Wings. Half way into it, Dan Cleary couldn’t put the biscuit past a sprawling Jonathan Bernier who got a slight piece of it and continued with his solid performance in this one. Tatar’s rush just prior to that wasn’t something to sneeze at either. The Leafs were spending too much time in their own zone and the Wings almost made them pay. The shot count stood 19-10 in favor of the red team 12 minutes into the 2nd.

6) Wings got a break on a lucky bounce of the boards which put Zetterberg and Alfredsson on a two-on-one break as Franson got caught up ice. Surely enough, that got them first goal of the hockey game. This was followed by another Leafs penalty, Jay McClement sat in the box as Leafs Nation held their breath. A two goal lead with one period to play, in a game like this – yeah, you’re basically done. Fortunately, the PK did it’s job, thanks mostly to some stellar saves by Bernier. First he stole one from Cleary and followed that up with a 10-bell save on Detroit’s top powerplay unit. Some end to end stuff saw Howard do the same on JVR after his big hit, resulting in a Leafs man advantage. It was surely too late, but the US-born goalie was making his final bid for a roster spot at the Sochi Olympics, stopping the Buds time after time. Be that as it may, our own American wouldn’t be denied. JVR tied the game just 37 second from the buzzer by batting a puck out of the air and scoring past Howard who was seemingly unbeatable down low. Phil Kessel (12:43) and van Riemsdyk (12:34) were leading all forwards in ice time after 2.

7) The tying goal set everyone up for a terrific third period. Dion Phaneuf’s bloody lip gave him an some added nastiness, which seemed to be squarely aimed at Daniel Alfredsson. He was pinching and frequently finishing checks, the best of which coming against the Swede in the offensive zone where he got the puck and the man.

8)  Our captain also celebrated his new contract with a huge assist from the point. He simply threw a puck to the net, it passed a bunch of bodies and sticks in front and ended up behind Detroit’s goaltender – a quick review was made but it was definitely a good goal, a vital goal, which should kill all the talk about his extension, even if only for a brief period of time. Bozak was credited with a deflection in the end.

9) A half-handed effort by Franson let Abdelkader power his way to the net and put the puck behind Bernier. Nothing in hockey, especially in a spectacle such as this, comes easy. The Wings pinched like crazy and it most certainly paid off. Still, if there was any doubt prior to tonight, Jonathan Bernier used the brightest of spotlights to grab the starting position ahead of James Reimer. Perhaps, this will be the biggest storyline of the Winter Classic. Overtime, as exciting as it was, solved nothing and the game went to a shootout where Tyler Bozak, of all people, scored to end the game. Welcome back sir!

10) The final episode of 24/7 will taste much sweeter now. It’s not a Stanley Cup, but it’s a major win the team can rally around and a soothing sensation for the entire contingent of Leafs Nation, which can finally celebrate something. Enjoy it.

2014 Winter Classic Shot Location Data

2014 Winter Classic Shot Location Data

2014 Winter Classic Game in 6

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Leafs vs Stars

The Leafs look to pick up their first win in five games tonight against the Dallas Stars. The Stars are 10th in the west with a 13-9-4 record, but some of below-average teams in the West would probably be good teams in the East. I caught parts of a couple of Stars games this season and this is a fast team.

Jerry D’Amigo received his first ever call up after four seasons with the Marlies and is expected to play on the Leafs’ 4th line tonight.

It seems Colton Orr is injured, and there is no word yet as to whether or not Frazer McLaren will dress for the Leafs. The Leafs waived Jerred Smithson and recalled D’Amigo though, so it seems Randy Carlyle is starting to get the idea after getting smacked over the head with the dangerous realities of icing a boat anchor fourth line, with a banged-up lineup, against a deep team like the San Jose Sharks.

Many fans have been waiting to see D’Amigo after some beastly playoff performances for the Marlies 2012 and again in 2013. He has been a 30-40 point player in the regular season, but has 21 points in 26 AHL playoff games.

D’Amigo will likely get some penalty killing time given Smithson is now with the Marlies and Tyler Bozak is out tonight. Hopefully D’Amigo has McClement and maybe Ashton as linemates to give him something to work with in terms of a cycle line.

Phil Kessel will play, Joffrey Lupul won’t. Jonathan Bernier starts. Tyler Seguin is in for the Dallas Stars. Stephane Robidas is out for a long time for the Stars.

We’ll know the lines closer to puck drop.

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Jake Gardiner dazzled in his best game of the season, David Clarkson FINALLY scored his first goal of the season and Jonathan Bernier was good when he needed to be as the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped the New York Islanders 5 – 2. Trevor Smith, Phil Kessel (2), Mason Raymond and Clarkson all scored for the Leafs, who won their second straight game.  Smith (1G, 2A) and Joffrey Lupul (3A) tallied 3 points apiece as the Leafs cruised to a pretty easy victory. Bernier made 35 saves for his eighth victory of the season.  Kevin Poulin struggled for the Islanders, making just 19 saves.  Casey Cizikas and Frans Nielsen responded for the Isles.

1.  Despite their middling record, the Islanders came into Toronto having won their last three matches at the ACC.  They also have one of the league’s top forward trios with Jonathan Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo combining for 66 points through the first 21 games.  But that didn’t matter all that much because Joffrey Lupul carried the puck cleanly through the neutral zone, sifted through the defense, cut towards the net and found a wide open Trevor Smith out front who scored the game’s opening goal just 22 seconds into the game.  Lupul assisted on the goal, Smith’s fourth of the year, breaking a mini slump (2 pts in last 9gp prior to tonight).  Hockey’s Handsomest Line™ (Lupul, Smith and Clarkson) was creating chances every shift they took tonight, combining for 7 points.

2. Jake Gardiner was electric in the first period.  He turned a defensive zone fourth line shift into two offensive chances.  Firstly by adroitly clearing the zone and getting the puck to Frazer McLaren and into the Islanders zone.  Later in the same shift, Cody Franson pounced on a turnover and left a soft touch pass for Gardiner.  With the Isles forwards switching their vectors onto him, Gardiner floated a surprise pass to Franson.  Despite somewhat bobbling the back and forth, Franson had enough time and space to recover and get a crisp, low shot off.  Later in the frame he also played a 3 on 1 textbook perfectly, neutering what should have been a good chance by the Isles.  He saw 9 minutes through the first 20, 22 through the game, and had a shift in the second period where he was just a one-man breakout machine (fun fact, that was my nickname in high school).

3. For Gardiner’s heroics, his erstwhile (that means former, before you get on me in the comments) defense partner Paul Ranger had another rough game, especially at the blue lines.  The Islanders were allowed to keep the puck in the Leafs end for nearly a minute due to Ranger’s inability to get it to the line AND out.  With the Leafs applying pressure and the Kessel line on, Ranger turned the puck over at the blue line on a seemingly innocuous play, allowing for a chance the other way.  That’s usually the recipe for a good old fashioned benching, so of course he went on to play 17 and a half minutes tonight, even in spite of a foolish roughing penalty towards the middle of the third.

4. Though the Leafs were outshot 11-7 through 20, they appeared to hold the balance of play through the first.  The second period started off less favourably for the Buds, getting outshot 4-0 and out played through the first five minutes of play.  It wasn’t until a borderline hit by Nikolai Kulemin on Tavares that the Leafs woke up.  Though not instantaneous, the ice began to tilt in Toronto’s favour.  The Leafs top two lines took to work, hemming the Isles in their zone for sustained periods of time, leading to the inevitable….

5.  After James van Riemsdyk got hacked down in the Isles’ zone, the Maple Leafs took the game’s first power play mid-way through the second period.  With a PP that’s been scoring nearly a goal per game and the Leafs surging, Phil Kessel took a pass from Lupul, button hooked, took a couple steps down to the circle, and took just a beautiful wrister that sailed passed Poulin’s blocker. The goal was Kessel’s 11th of the season and just his second in 8 games; with Lupul and Phaneuf picking up the assists.  He’d later pick up his second goal of the game and 12th of the season off a 2-1 rush with van Riemsdyk to close out the third.

6. This is why you don’t make fun of people’s names.

Casey Cizikas, who isn’t a tasty thing that goes with donair, scores an absolute beauty on a breakaway with 11 seconds left in the 2nd, outracing Jake Gardiner (Not a typo) and slipping the puck through Bernier’s wickets.  The Leafs held a 2-1 lead through 40, and I’m still sorry about the whole thing guys.

7. The third period started in a similar fashion to the second, with the Islanders controlling play.  Shortly after Eric Boulton and Colton Orr chucked knuckles, Carl Gunnarsson blocks a shot and gets the puck out to Mason Raymond.  The puck finds its way to a driving McClement in the center lane, who puts a shot on Poulin.  Raymond was Johnny on the spot and buried the rebound to make it 3-1. The goal was Raymond’s 8th of the season, with McClement getting the lone assist.  It was all over but the screaming at that point.

8. I wanted to use this space to discuss just how great a game Nikolai Kulemin had, but David Clarkson’s goal – and play tonight – warrant mention.  The second line was great tonight.  Their ability to wear the Isles down in the offensive zone was noticeable, and all three were rewarded handsomely on the score sheet.  But for Clarkson, who is suddenly hot with three points in his last three games, his third period tally was the monkey off the back goal he so desperately needed.  Much like Phil Kessel last season, it took Clarkson 21 11 games to pot his first, but it sure was a beauty.  He played just a shade under 19 minutes tonight, and was hell for the Islanders to play throughout.

The line of Raymond, McClement and Kulemin was also effective while lining up against the Tavares unit for a number of shifts.

9. Special Teams Report: The league’s 11th ranked PK entering tonight (83.5% success rate) went 2/2 and kept the Leafs ahead the Islanders in the waning minutes of the second and mid-way through the third.  Carl Gunnarsson, whom I maligned earlier this afternoon, made a huge play to block a couple shots with Bernier scrambling to get back in position.  Gunnarsson’s selfless maneuver kept the Leafs two-goal lead intact with just over 10 left to play in the game.

The Leafs power play, ranked 3rd in the league with a 23.1 success rate, went 1/2 and helped put the Leafs out front by a two-goal margin.  They never had to look back after that.  For the record, the Zebras looked kindly on the Maple Leafs all game.  In the first, Frazer McLaren attempted to instigate a fight with an unwilling Matt Martin.  That probably should have been a penalty.  Kulemin’s thunderous hit on Tavares, while the most hit Kuli’s had since May, was certainly on the edge of legality.  The refs, thankfully, kept the whistles away, allowing for a fun, fast paced, even game.

Kessel's 2nd of the night, the 5-2 goal.

Kessel’s 2nd of the night, the 5-2 goal.

10. The Islanders weren’t exactly expected to be a fearsome competitor facing the East’s third best team.  Instead they served as slump busters, getting both Lupul and Kessel back on the score sheet after short droughts.  It wasn’t always pretty for the full 60, but at no point did the game truly seem in doubt for the Leafs.  There’s still plenty of room to grow, but this was a better, more dominant win than most for the Buds.

The Leafs will be in action on Thursday as they host the Nashville Predators.  It’ll be the second and final regular season matchup between the two clubs; Toronto won their previous tilt 4-0.

Leafs/Isles Shot Location Data

Leafs/Isles Shot Location Data

SCORING SUMMARY
 
 
 
1ST PERIOD
0:22:00TORTrevor Smith (3) Snap shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (5)1 - 0 TOR
2ND PERIOD
11:19:00TOR PPG - Phil Kessel (11) Wrist shot - ASST: Joffrey Lupul (6), Dion Phaneuf (7)2 - 0 TOR
19:48:00NYICasey Cizikas (3) Wrist shot - ASST: NONE2 - 1 TOR
3RD PERIOD
3:39:00TORMason Raymond (8) Backhand shot - ASST: Jay McClement (2)3 - 1 TOR
12:52:00TORDavid Clarkson (1) Wrist shot - ASST: Trevor Smith (2), Joffrey Lupul (7)4 - 1 TOR
15:14:00NYIFrans Nielsen (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Josh Bailey (6)4 - 2 TOR
17:17:00TORPhil Kessel (12) Wrist shot - ASST: James van Riemsdyk (7), Trevor Smith (3)5 - 2 TOR

Islanders at Leafs - November 19

Leafs 5 vs. Isles 2.
NO.
PLAYER
POS
G
A
P
+/-
PIM
S
HITS
BKS
GVA
TKA
FO%
PPTOI
SHTOI
TOI
3D. PhaneufD0112004210-2:52:002:47:0022:16:00
4C. FransonD000-2024120-2:18:001:13:0020:56:00
11J. McClementC011101000159%0:00:002:47:0020:18:00
12M. RaymondL1011030000-0:32:000:00:0015:57:00
15P. RangerD0001202231-0:00:001:20:0017:22:00
19J. LupulR0330202010100%2:36:000:00:0019:28:00
21J. van RiemsdykL011102002125%2:36:001:13:0016:54:00
22J. SmithsonC000000320075%0:00:001:35:008:43:00
23T. SmithC123102121157%0:32:000:00:0016:43:00
24P. HollandC000001310014%0:00:000:00:0012:43:00
28C. OrrR0000504000-0:00:000:00:006:29:00
36C. GunnarssonD0003004131-0:00:000:52:0019:31:00
38F. McLarenL0000501000-0:00:000:00:006:39:00
41N. KuleminL00010332110%0:00:002:25:0017:26:00
44M. RiellyD0001012421-0:16:000:00:0017:45:00
51J. GardinerD000-1030110-0:50:001:48:0022:20:00
71D. ClarksonR10100251100%0:32:000:00:0018:49:00
81P. KesselC2021041000-2:36:000:00:0015:41:00
Goalie
NO.PLAYERSAVESSV%PIMTOI
45J. Bernier35 - 370.946060:00:00

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48th Highlanders

The Leafs remain on an 82-0 pace after a thrilling home opener that had everything but a fight. The Leafs found a way to win despite a goalie pull and a 4-2 deficit, as their off-season additions shone bright en route to a 5-4 shootout victory.

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Well, it’s been a wild ride on twitter for the past few days. If you follow the hockey analytics crowd on twitter you probably know what I’m talking about, though for those of you that don’t, let me fill you in. I think the best place to start is the beginning of this recent road and it’s a bit of a bumpy ride so buckle up.

As I’m sure many, if not all, of you know, on Thursday afternoon the Leafs placed Grabovski on waivers for the purpose of buying him out. I think it’s pretty safe to say that this news was a shock to most of us, but none more so than those heavily involved in the “advanced statistics” community.

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Next up on the player review list is Joffrey Lupul.

It was a whirlwind season for the man who has rejuvenated his career in Toronto. Lupul signed a 5-year deal worth 26.25M, got hurt twice, suspended once, and still potted 18 points in only 16 games before notching four more points in seven playoff games.

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It’s official. The Leafs will face the Bruins in round one.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for the Habs on Tuesday. As much as the last four games against the Habs have been a mixed bag, the Leafs have been able to play their game and play to their strengths against Montreal. The Leafs have played the Bs much more competitively this season, but the Bruins have still been effective at negating the Leafs speed and skill up front, slowing them down and forcing them to grind for every goal. While the Bruins have backed into the playoffs, their forecheck is still top notch. For a Leafs team that struggles to diffuse a forecheck with efficient breakouts, that’s a scary prospect. The Bruins have experience, the core of a past Stanley Cup winner and play a tough playoff brand of hockey.

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The league’s fourth ranked team, the Toronto Maple Leafs (we beat Boston in something!), host the New Jersey tonight seeking to snuff out their dwindling playoff hopes by completing the season series sweep over the Devils.

Settling for a comfortable playoff position cannot be the approach if you’re Carlyle’s Leafs. The goal has to be to try to chase down home ice advantage for round one, or at the very least to finish strong headed into the playoffs. There is a definite advantage for teams who are playing at a playoff level with playoff intensity already by the time game 1 of the Quarterfinals rolls around. Winning games like this one against desperate teams will help keep the Leafs confident and battle ready for the big dance.

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The Leafs are all but set to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, yet there is an inordinate amount of vitriol being directed at Toronto’s head coach Randy Carlyle, for some reason.

Considering pretty well everyone predicted the Leafs not to make the playoffs, it’s pretty funny to see the coach leading a surprising playoff appearance – and a team that’s currently fifth in the East and 7th in the League – get chastised

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After looking at potential trade targets in last week’s preamble, it only makes sense to look at the Leafs potential trading chips for the deadline that’s two days away.

Around the trade deadline, eyes always gravitate towards pending UFAs and the Leafs currently have five. It’s safe to say UFA to be – Colton Orr, Mike Kostka and Ryan Hamilton – aren’t going to bring Toronto anything via trade so we can cut them off the list of names to discuss. The other two UFAs to be are Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur.

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Joffrey Lupul

Following up on Nazem Kadri’s 3rd star honours last week, Joffrey Lupul is your NHL 1st star for the week of March 25-31 after four games consisting of 5 goals, 4 assists, 9 points, and 3 game-winning goals (consecutively vs. Florida, Carolina and Ottawa). In his career as a Leaf, Lupul now has 99 points in 103 games.

On top of his natural offensive abilities, Joffrey Lupul is benefitting from a rest advantage having missed such a big cluster of games in a compact schedule. Joe Corvo certainly didn’t expect the late-game speed drive out of Lupul in an end-to-end rush to win the game against Carolina. Lupul is visibly “fresher” out there over 60 minutes. To his credit, his conditioning was described as excellent coming out of the lockout and he appeared to be able to take the time while sidelined with the injury – he was able to skate, just couldn’t shoot – to touch up his edge work with Barb Underhill. It’s tough to say which is the bigger factor here, but he’s getting around the rink better than ever, is engaged physically and he’s looked supremely confident coming off a disheartening injury layoff.

Without Lupul jumping back into the lineup and hitting the ground running, you could make an argument the Leafs would be in notably worse shape than their current 20-12-4.  They beat Boston 3-2 without him, but remember, he entered the lineup at a time when the Leafs had lost four straight, a few in pretty ugly fashion. They were in horrible shape against the Jets in his comeback game and he played a big role in the team grabbing the loser point.  Excluding the two games he was suspended for, the Leafs have gone 4-0-1 in his appearances since, and he’s scored in all and had multi-point games in all but one (“just” the one goal in the 3-2 shootout loss in Boston).

I’m not in the dressing room, but he seems to have taken on a leadership role among the forward group. That was probably the case last season, but he seems to be relishing the opportunity in front of him to help lead this team to somewhere it hasn’t gone as an organization in far too many years (when they get there, Lupul’s 39 games of experience will be the most the team has in any one player). It was also interesting to hear Lupul speak about the fans “finally coming to life now that the team has given them reason to believe. The tone in which he said it sounded to me like he had taken note of an at-times lacking atmosphere in the ACC while stuck in the press box. A few gestures toward the fans following his goals, in an effort to liven up the crowd, has confirmed my suspicion. He’s got a leader’s personality and he’s taken on a ambassador-like role for the team between his Twitter presence, the frequency with which he interviews (or takes on painful acting roles), and his Lupes Troops initiative.

A lot can and will change over the next four years, but, as far as earning that new contract goes, he certainly seems up to the challenge early.

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The Leafs played the Sens in the fourth of five meetings between these two teams. This Battle of Ontario offered great value as the Sens held a two point advantage in the Northeast Division and the Conference standings headed into this one. Not anymore.

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Joffrey Lupul

What an impressive showing by Joffrey Lupul last night. Re-united with 2011-12 running mates Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel after an in-game audible by coach Carlyle, he led the Leafs to a not-always-convincing 3-2 win over the lowly Florida Panthers with goals five and six in his last four games.