The Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers, currently two points apart in the Atlantic Division standings, gear up for a meaningful Monday night contest as the race for playoff enters its final 30 games of the regular season (7 p.m. ET, TSN4).

While the Leafs were enjoying their CBA-mandated vacation pre-all star weekend, the Florida Panthers were busy earning their fifth and sixth straight wins in a streak that would see them pass Toronto and slide in behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the division’s third seed. Since then, of course, the Leafs have won three in a row and overtaken the Panthers, who are two points back with two games in hand.

On top of the standings implications, this game is a redemption opportunity for the Leafs. Their last game against the Panthers on January 12th was an ugly 8-4 loss that kicked off a rough stretch for Toronto heading into the break, capped off by another blowout loss to Chicago. They allowed two goals in the first four minutes of both the first and second periods before going down 5-0 halfway through the game. This is a statement opportunity following that embarrassing loss in addition to the chance to add some extra padding below them in the third-seed of the division.

After a hard open-ice hit left Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov sitting out the rest of the game on Saturday against the Habs, the 24-year-old will sit out tonight, with the team listing him as day-to-day. Having played in all 50 games for Florida this season — and all 82 last season — it has been a long time since the Panthers have had to build a lineup without him, so it’s tough to predict how they’ll assemble their lines tonight. Barkov’s line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov has played over 460 minutes together this season — the fifth-most in the NHL — and Barkov has been the engine of this Panthers team to say the least. With Barkov out, this becomes should-win scenario for the Leafs on home ice.

A stint with food poisoning kept Travis Dermott out of Saturday’s game, but he’ll be back in tonight alongside Tyson Barrie, which moves Martin Marincin out of the lineup for now. After showing up for practice late and earning himself a healthy scratch against the Senators, Kasperi Kapanen is back in the lineup tonight. There was a bit of suspense regarding the reasoning behind Kapanen’s “internal accountability”-related absence; it’s hard to imagine the team would decide to scratch a player after one instance of accidental tardiness, so it’s natural to speculate whether this might be more about a pattern of behaviour with Kapanen than a one-off mistake.

Game Day Quotes

Kasperi Kapanen on his Saturday scratch:

It was just an honest mistake. I was late to practice on Friday and they felt like sitting me out was something I deserved, and I agree. I’ve just got to take responsibility for that. That’s that.

Kapanen on whether it’s happened before:

To be honest, yes. In my Marlies days, I’ve been late to practice a couple of times. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on. It’s not me not caring. It’s just an honest mistake and it happens. I’ve just got to own up to it.

Sheldon Keefe on scratching Kasperi Kapanen and the response the team is looking for:

Any time you get called out like that and held accountable, it gives you an opportunity to reflect and grow from it. That is really what we were looking for.

I’m hoping for a great response, obviously. We’re going to give him a great opportunity. He is going to go right back into his usual spot and play as he normally would. This is not a punishment or anything like that. This is about trying to reset the player and trying to help him grow and get better. We want him to be the player he is capable of being. We need him to be great and I fully expect he will be.

Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville on the meaning of tonight’s game:

It was a big game [last time] and an even bigger game today. This is a huge four-point swing. Let’s be ready for it knowing that they have been coming out of the break on a good note and we want to make sure we get back and capture the momentum we entered the break with. There is a lot at stake here. We want to be ready to play from start to finish. We have been way better and have had a higher standard of how we are competing. When you do that, it reinforces technically doing the right things.

Panthers defenseman Riley Stillman on the importance of the two points:

It’s almost do or die every night. It feels like a playoff game. We are in the second half and things are getting tight. There are fewer and fewer games and points on the line. When you play somebody in your division, it’s exciting and everyone gets amped up to play, especially here in Toronto.

John Tavares on sustaining the team’s three-game winning streak:

We obviously just want to continue to build on the way we responded after the break just with the the attention to detail consistently over 60 minutes without the puck and especially being smart at the right times in the right areas. We’re still wanting to obviously be dynamic, control possession, and create opportunity.

Matchup Stats

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #47 Pierre Engvall – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#42 Trevor Moore – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #19 Jason Spezza

#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #94 Tyson Barrie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #83 Cody Ceci

#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson

Scratched: Dmytro Timashov, Tyler Gaudet, Martin Marincin
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Morgan Rielly

Florida Panthers Projected Lines

#11 Jonathan Huberdeau – #55 Noel Acciari – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#10 Brett Connolly – #21 Vincent Trocheck –  #68 Mike Hoffman
#77 Frank Vatrano – #14 Dominic Toninato – #62 Denis Malgin
#7 Colton Sceviour – #9 Brian Boyle – #13 Mark Pysyk

#19 Michael Matheson – #5 Aaron Ekblad
#61 Riley Stillman – #6 Anton Stralman
#3 Keith Yandle – #2 Josh Brown

#72 Sergei Bobrovsky
#33 Samuel Montebeault

Injured: Mackenzie Weegar, Chris Driedger