Panthers-Maple Leafs Preview
While they still have their work cut out, the Florida Panthers are starting to get it together.
The Panthers go for a sixth win in seven games when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
Sitting in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, Florida (12-17-5) has taken several big steps forward over the last two weeks. The Panthers have won five of six, including a season-high three straight while allowing five goals.
"We're finally starting to feel confident and, so to speak, play with a little swagger. We're a group that's going to rely on hard work and a lot of energy, and lately we're a motivated group," Scottie Upshall, leading the team with 18 points, told the NHL's official website.
"We've been through a rough patch in the first 30 games, and it's time to move on to the next stage of the season."
The Panthers are 4-2-1 in their last seven road games after winning 2-1 at Montreal on Sunday. Jesse Winchester and fellow forward Nick Bjugstad scored and Scott Clemmensen made 17 saves while filling in for Tim Thomas (groin) again.
Clemmensen has posted a 1.44 goals-against average in winning back-to-back starts after going 0-2-1 with a 3.89 GAA in his first five games.
"Our guys were diving in front, getting sticks up there, deflecting passes, being in a good position," Clemmensen said. "It was great. That's how we win games."
Florida improved to 9-8-1 since interim coach Peter Horachek replaced Kevin Dineen on Nov. 8.
"I think the guys are believers," Horachek said. "There will continually be some tweaks and some things that have to be done, but guys are buying in. I think we're doing everything a lot better in a lot of areas.
"The players are putting it on the line. They want to win and they want to get the respect for the way they're playing."
While the Maple Leafs (17-15-3) posted their highest goal total of the season in Saturday's 7-3 win over Chicago, they couldn't keep up Monday in a 3-1 loss at Pittsburgh. Rookie Morgan Rielly scored his first goal and Jonathan Bernier stopped 28 of 30 shots.
"We just weren't sharp," said coach Randy Carlyle, whose team dropped to 2-14-2 when scoring two goals or fewer.
The Maple Leafs, 1-4-0 in their last five games, went 1 for 5 on the power play and fell to 15-4-2 when scoring with the man advantage.
"We were a little inconsistent, but we did do some good things," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "We've got to capitalize on the power play and do some things better."
If in goal, Bernier will be making his first start against the Panthers. Teammate James Reimer had gone 0-2-0 with a 5.08 GAA in his first three games against Florida before making 34 saves in a 4-0 road win April 25.
Clemmensen, who played in three games with the Leafs in 2007-08, has gone 2-1-2 against his former club while compiling a 1.75 GAA, his lowest mark versus any team he's faced more than once.
Florida had outscored Toronto 38-17 during an 8-1-1 stretch in the series before losing all three matchups last season by a combined 10-2 score.
Leading the Leafs with 32 points, Phil Kessel has five goals and five assists during a seven-game point streak against the Panthers. Phaneuf has six points during a six-game stretch versus Florida.