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Florida Panthers Squash Toronto Playoff Talk for a Night, Beat Leafs 4-0

PANTHERS 4, MAPLE LEAFS 0

After winning at Carolina on Wednesday night, the Maple Leafs playoff chase was back on. Toronto, left for dead not too long ago, had pulled to within four points of a playoff spot with that victory.

Naturally, the Leafs had figured to cut their deficit in half with a win over the slumping Panthers on Thursday night. As has been the case with the Panthers over the years, things don't always come that easy for Toronto.

The Panthers, who gave up on the playoffs long ago, scored three goals in the second period on backup goalie J-S Giguere and sent the Maple Leafs on their way with a 4-0 loss in front of an announced 16,970 at BankAtlantic Center.

Florida has now won five of six on home ice against Toronto.

“I got a bunch of text messages from my friends before the game,'' said Stephen Weiss, whose goal in the second gave Florida a 2-0 lead on his hometown team. “They told me to have some beers, just relax before the game. I'm glad they don't have this to celebrate.''

If the Panthers haven't fully accepted their role as spoiler of late, they sure don't look like it. Through the first six games of this season-long seven game home stretch, the Panthers have beaten two playoff-bound teams in Tampa Bay and Chicago, lost in overtime to Washington and may have seriously hampered Toronto's chances at making it.

Toronto looked like the more desperate of the two teams in the opening period, getting a number of chances against Scott Clemmensen but failing to connect. Florida wasn't sitting back, either, with Michal Frolik getting a good scoring chance late in the period.

Florida flew through the second, getting two power play goals after Sergei Samsonov tipped in a long shot from Jason Garrison just 49 seconds into the period.

Samsonov, who wasn't originally credited with the goal, now has two goals since joining the Panthers at the start of the month after being acquired in the Bryan Allen deal with the Hurricanes. Samsonov had two assists in Tuesday's loss to the Flyers and has seven points since joining the team.

“We scored a couple on the power play and that helps,'' Samsonov said. “This has to be motivation for us. We're held to a higher standard playing teams trying to make the playoffs. Those are good tests for us and we've been up for it.''

Leading 1-0, the Panthers added to their lead later in the period, with Stephen Weiss scoring against his hometown team on a power play chance at 5:11. Weiss rolled down the right side of the ice and fired a shot from the right circle with Steve Bernier all but completely blocking Giguere's view.

Weiss, who was rumored to be possibly traded to the Maple Leafs at the deadline, hit the 20-goal plateau for the third time in his career – all coming in the past five seasons.

Florida made it 3-0 midway through the period when Mike Santorelli broke out of his slump by scoring on another power play. Samsonov got an assist on the goal.

The Panthers were on the power play after Toronto's Dion Phaneuf hit David Booth with his knee along the boards by the Leafs bench. Booth slumped to the ice and limped into the locker room only to return later in the period.

Florida hadn't scored multiple power play goals in 12 games – and hadn't scored a single such goal in its previous five. Of course, the Panthers power play usually seems to wake up against the Leafs as Florida has two power play goals in each of its past three games against Toronto. The Panthers killed off a Toronto power play chance late in the third, with Toronto sending two extra attackers on the ice as  Giguere was pulled.

Giguere stayed on the bench as the penalty expired, with Ellerby coming out of the box, getting the puck and sliding it into the empty net for Florida's fourth goal with 3:24 remaining.

Clemmensen played in place of Tomas Vokoun as it appears coach Pete DeBoer is going to rotate the two through the rest of the season. Clemmensen made 24 saves as he picked up his sixth career shutout and first this season.

“It was nice, it was good for the guys,'' DeBoer said. “In Toronto's defense, we got them on a back-to-back after an emotional game in Carolina. We did our job, jumped on them and took advantage.''

'NOT GOOD ENOUGH'

It's easy to see why DeBoer might be a little jealous as he watches the Maple Leafs stay in playoff contention while his team has faded from such thought.

Not too long ago, the Panthers had a sizable lead on Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings. After Thursday, Florida sits five points back of the Maple Leafs.

“They made some changes, some guys got healthy and they've gotten some goaltending and have gone on a run,'' DeBoer said before the game. “They tweaked their lineup and it had a positive effect. We were right in that pack this year and last year. We fell out for different reasons. .-.-. At the end of the day, you're just not good enough. That's the bottom line.''

-- The Panthers should be getting some of their players back in the coming games as Jack Skille (ankle), Shawn Matthias (ankle), Evgeny Dadonov (finger) and Alexander Sulzer (oblique) have been working out and getting back into game shape. Dadonov and Sulzer could return for Saturday's game against the Islanders.

-- Defenseman Evan Oberg, who came to the Panthers in the Chris Higgins deal with Vancouver on Feb. 28, will not play again this season after suffering a serious neck injury while playing for Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.

"There are still more doctor visits but we're hoping it's not going to require surgery," Rochester coach Chuck Weber told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

-- DeBoer admitted that he hasn't followed the college basketball game too closely this season, but said he was picking Ohio State to win the NCAA men's tournament. The Buckeyes haven't won a national title since 1960.





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