Toronto combined a relaxing off day, complete with fishing and golfing, with hard practices and video sessions to sharpen the players’ focus.
The plan worked to perfection, with the Leafs producing a pair of much needed wins over their Florida rivals, including a narrow 3-2 verdict over the Florida Panthers last night before 12,242 at the BankAtlantic Center.
Coupled with Tuesday’s win in Tampa, the Leafs can classify their Florida trip a big success. Taking the maximum four points vaulted them from 11th in the Eastern Conference playoff ladder to ninth.
After a sluggish start to the first period, Boyd Devereaux flipped a shot past Florida goalie Alex Auld at 12:14 of the first.
Chad Kilger slid a shot in for his eighth goal early in the second, and from there, the Leafs rounded into form, forechecking hard and paying extra attention to their defensive responsibilities.
John Pohl, combining with Alex Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov, scored at 10:41 of the second to give Toronto 3-0 lead.
Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft entered the third period with a chance for his second shutout of the season. But the Panthers rallied and bagged a pair of goals to make this game a tense affair for the Leafs.
Greg Campbell was credited with a goal at 1:12 after his shot deflected off Bryan McCabe’s skate. Another bad bounce, this one off Jeff O’Neill, resulted in a goal for Ville Peltonen at 10:08.
The hard-fought victory left four Leafs with assorted pains.
McCabe, with a high stick to the face, Matt Stajan, after a crushing hit on the end boards, Pavel Kubina, with a puck to the face, and Brendan Bell, taking a shot off the foot, were all injured but remained in the game.
A sluggish start was exactly what Toronto had warned themselves against during the morning skate yesterday.
After their tune-up session on the ice, the players and coaching staff met behind closed doors for about a half hour. A television and video machine was carted into the dressing room, and the players were shown clips of their failures on the power play in two previous games against the Panthers.
Coincidentally, Florida coach Jacques Martin and his players had been vocal about the imbalance in penalties against his team since Tuesday’s loss against Carolina when Rod Brind’Amour drew a penalty in overtime and the Hurricanes potted the game winner on the ensuing power play.
Martin and the Panthers felt the Hurricanes captain was guilty of diving. More importantly, they vented their frustrations at the league head office, claiming they have been victimized as a team because they have been assessed 62 more penalties than their opposition.
Florida then played right into the Leafs hands, taking an early penalty, then a four-minute major for high sticking.
McCabe took the high stick to his face two nights after being cut for several stitches on the bridge of his nose in a similar incident against Tampa Bay.
The Leafs failed to muster anything on their power plays in the first period but caught a break when Devereaux and Kilger hooked up at 12:14 – just seven seconds after the major to Florida ended.
Kilger won a battle for the puck behind Auld. Both Florida defencemen went after Kilger, who flipped it out in front of the net where Devereaux was waiting and he buried the pass for his second goal of the season.
Leafs 3, Panthers 2
1. Toronto, Devereaux 2 (Kilger, Battaglia) 12:14
Penalties — Gratton Fla 5:50, Campbell Fla 8:08, Battaglia Tor 15:12.
2. Toronto, Kilger 8 (Stajan, Belak) 5:59
3. Toronto, Pohl 8, 10:41
Penalties — Belak Tor, Allen Fla (fighting) 17:47.
4. Florida, Campbell 4 (Kwiatkowski) 1:12
5. Florida, Peltonen 7 (Weiss, Allen) 10:08
Penalty — Pohl Tor 20:00.
Shots on goal
Toronto: 10, 4, 5 — 19
Florida: 9, 14, 18 — 41
Goal (shots-saves) — Toronto: Raycroft (W,20-15-4); Florida: Auld (L,7-13-5) (14-11), Belfour (start third) (5-5).
Power plays — Toronto: 0-3; Florida: 0-2.
Referees — Dan Marouelli, Wes McCauley. Linesmen — Derek Arnell, Tony Sericolo. Attendance — 12,242 (19,250).
Leaf ice-time leaders
Bryan McCabe (25:22), Tomas Kaberle (24:54), Pavel Kubina (22:48)
Toronto hangs on for hard-earned 3-2 victory over penalty-prone Panthers
January 19, 2007