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article imageHome Boys: Leafs beat Panthers in fifth consecutive home win Special

By Dave Pitman     Jan 31, 2014 in Sports
Toronto - The sun may be hot in Florida, but the Maple Leafs scorers are on fire in Toronto. Now winners of their last five games at home, 13 different Leafs players contributed on the score sheet Thursday night en route to a 6-3 win over the Florida Panthers.
"Raymond was visible, Lupul has a big league shot, Phil was exciting…", head coach Randy Carlyle said of his team post game, "Naz was a difference maker. Probably the best game he's played in a long time."
The Maple Leafs were 3-0-0 against the Panthers last season, but dropped the first meeting of the campaign earlier this year 3-1. Scott Clemmensen got the win that game, making 28 saves and posting a 1.00 GAA. He would get the call again this time, going head to head with Jonathan Bernier.
Specialty teams promised to play a role in this game — The Maple Leafs currently boast the fifth best Power Play in the league, first when playing at home. The Panthers, however, have the NHL's worst. Numbers on the penalty kill are somewhat dreadful for both clubs on the other hand — Toronto and Florida have nearly an identical penalty killing percentage, which means they're identically awful. They rank 28th and 29th in the NHL respectively.
Dave Bolland would miss his 41st game of the season recovering from torn ligaments in his foot, and David Clarkson would miss his second straight game after having 20 staples removed from his elbow. Troy Bodie and Peter Holland are two players who have been called to step up in their absence and coach Carlyle rolled with their third line of Bodie, Holland, and Raymond to start the game.
It wouldn't take long for Florida to open the scoring in this one. Less than two minutes after puck drop, a Maple Leafs defensive lapse allowed Nick Bjugstad to break free and place a backhand perfectly over Bernier's pad on the breakaway to take the early lead. It's difficult to get anything started against the Panthers when they score first. Florida is 13-4-3 when scoring first and tend to play a dump and chase defensively-minded game. It didn't help that Toronto took two first period penalties that prevented them from gaining any sort of momentum. A Cody Franson turnover led to Sean Bergenheim's 13th of the season on a 2-on-1 midway through the frame that seemed to suck the air out of the building. The Leafs would push back however, working the puck around the point Cody Franson let a wrist shot fly from the blue-line that would find its way through the crowd in front and in. The period would end with Florida on top 2-1 and out-shooting the Leafs 10-9.
When the puck dropped in the second, it was Toronto's turn to strike first and they came out flying. Just 27 seconds into the frame, the Leafs tied it up on a Mason Raymond bullet that had the fans on their feet. Just 30 seconds later, and before the crowd had stopped celebrating, James van Riemsdyk got a stick on a Kessel shot on the Power play to take the 3-2 lead. The first minute of the period would be the most productive one as neither team were able to score for the rest of the 19 minutes. Toronto led 3-2 to start the third.
It wouldn't take long into the third before Toronto struck again. Getting free out front, Nikolai Kulemin buried his eighth of the year to put the home team up 4-2. The goal marked a milestone for one of Toronto's young stars — Kadri's assist on the play was his 100th career NHL point. It was just one of his three assists on the night. His second came just a couple of minutes later as Kadri hit Lupul in the slot who buried his 16th top corner.
Jonathan Bernier wouldn't let his guard down after his team scored five straight, as he was sharp all through the third, making some fantastic saves that had the crowd of ACC giving a standing ovation. One more would eventually get by Bernier however, as a re-directed shot from Kulikov beat him late in the third. Not to be out-done, Phil Kessel displayed his speed and play making abilities late in the game drawing defenders in before dishing to a wide open Tyler Bozak who put the nail in the coffin, taking a 6-3 lead that would eventually be the final score.
Offensively, the Maple Leafs were firing on all cylinders, most notably off the stick of Nazem Kadri.
"It's a great achievement for myself and hopefully there's more to come.", said Kadri, post game when asked how it felt to hit 100 points. Although Kadri has been a key player in the Leafs turnaround, he had nothing but praise for his teams ability to bounce back from the rough December the Maple Leafs endured. "Every ones sticking together. A Few weeks ago it seemed like the sky was falling in Toronto…we try to lean on each other, kudos to the whole group."
Amidst the offensive fire power on display from the Leafs forwards, the play of newly acquired Tim Gleason has turned some heads in the locker room since arriving. His leadership and willingness to put the team first have not gone unnoticed.
"He's an animal, that guy." Kadri added as reporters turned to talk to Gleason.
"I had special juice tonight," laughed Gleason, holding up a bottle of blue liquid when asked how he was able to play tonight after the blocked shots and shoulder injury he suffered Tuesday night versus Tampa Bay, "Doctors took good care of me… Sometimes I wonder if it's better that I'm dealing with something than being healthy… I just come to work everyday like everyone else and try to do my job… sounds easy doesn't it?"
"It didn't feel like 38 shots," Bernier told reporters post game, "right now we're on a roll, we just need to grab as many points as we can before the break."
The Maple Leafs play four more times before the Olympic break including a home game this Saturday against Ontario rivals the Ottawa Senators. With the win, they are now just three points back of Tampa for second in the Atlantic division, and seven behind Boston for first. Although they are climbing the standings, coach Carlyle thinks it's too early to be scoreboard watching, and prefers to take it one game at a time.
"You just enjoy the win today, and prepare yourself mentally tonight for the next one."
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