Florida-Toronto Game Preview: Panthers Claw Into Maple Leafs

Dino MoriAnalyst IFebruary 5, 2008

The Florida Panthers’ endeavor to win three in a row—a feat the Panthers (24-25-5) haven't been able to accomplish since mid-December—tonight when they visit the Air Canada Center to play the Toronto Maple Leafs.

What is most encouraging for Sunrise fans is that the club is only three points out of first place in the feeble Southeast Division. Florida is tied with Washington for third with 53 points, while Carolina and Atlanta are even atop the division with 56 points each. Tampa Bay are the cellar dwellers, registering a paltry 47 points.

Florida is in the midst of a five-game road trip, which began with a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Tampa Bay last Saturday. Goalie Tomas Vokoun made 44 saves in the victory. He is 3-1-1 in his last five starts, compiling a tidy 2.33 goals against average.

After meeting the Maple Leafs, the Panthers will travel to Ottawa and Boston before closing out the road trip with a stop in Buffalo next Sunday.

Florida will be without Radek Dvorak for their game with Toronto—the right winger broke two fingers against the Lightning and will miss up to six weeks. 

The Panthers will also lack the services of forwards Rostislav Olesz, Ville Peltonen, Jozef Stumpel, and defenseman Mike Van Ryn against the Maple Leafs.

Toronto, (21-24-9), meanwhile, are coming off a 4-2 character-building victory over the Senators last Saturday. Marile call-up Robbie Earl, playing alongside Boyd Devereaux and Dominic Moore, scored his first goal in his first game as a Maple Leaf this year. His speed and energy was a breath of fresh air for a club stagnating in last place in the Northeast Division. 

Maple Leaf’s Nik Antropov will sit out the second game of a three-game suspension tonight. He was suspended at the conclusion of last Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, when he threw his broken stick at an official.

Forwards John Pohl, Chad Kilger, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Alex Steen, as well as, defenseman Bryan McCabe will also not play against the Panthers. 

Toronto has won both meetings with Florida this year. On Oct. 18 at the ACC, the Maple Leafs edged the Panthers 3-2 on a last minute goal by Antropov. Then, on Dec. 22 in Florida, got a goal by Pavel Kubina in overtime in a 2-1 victory.

Puck drops at 7:30 and can be seen locally on Rogers Sportsnet Ontario.

Just a thought about the Mats Sundin trade rumors: If the Leafs captain wants what's best for the hockey club, he will let interim general manager Cliff Fletcher deal him to a contending club before the deadline. 

Sundin could then re-sign in the offseason for less money so the Leafs could entice a free agent like Brian Campbell of the Buffalo Sabres to come to Toronto. 

The captain should submit to a trade if he truly cares about the health of his hockey team.