Despite being outplayed for almost the entire second period, the Panthers grabbed a pair of opportunistic goals before adding two more in the third to roll past the host Maple Leafs 5-1 at Air Canada Center on Tuesday.
Unlike Sunday against the Lightning, it took Florida a while to grab a 3-0 lead. And, also unlike Sunday, the Panthers didn't blow said lead. Tampa Bay came back from its deficit to win 4-3 in a shootout in Sunrise after trailing 3-0 at the first intermission. On Tuesday, the Panthers didn't go up 3-0 until late in the second.
Florida had lost three straight, all in a shootout, to tie an NHL record. The Panthers have gone 4-1-3 in their past eight games and have won five of eight away from Sunrise this season.
“It's nice when you don't have to sweat,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We were all thinking about the 3-0 lead because we were there before. We did a good job with it.''
The Panthers now have 17 points and are off to their best start through 14 games since getting 22 points to start the 1996-97 campaign. Florida's current start ranks third all-time behind the 20 points earned in 1995 and 22 the following season.
Both of those teams made the playoffs. The Panthers came into Tuesday holding the eighth and final postseason spot in the east – with quite a few more games remaining.
Toronto, meanwhile, came into the night holding the top slot in the east but has now been outscored 12-1 in its past two losses. The Panthers have won nine of their past 13 in Toronto.
“We just need to keep this rolling,'' Kris Versteeg said. “We've had some games that could have knocked us down, but we keep bouncing back. We pick ourselves up pretty darned fast.''
Florida took the initial lead midway through the opening period when Jack Skille found a puck he lost down low and worked his way around goalie Jonas Gustavsson for his first goal of the season.
Toronto came out buzzing in the second and ended up outshooting the Panthers 18-7. Only Florida converted on consecutive shots, getting goals from Marco Sturm (his first as a member of the Panthers) and Tomas Kopecky (his third) a mere 19 seconds apart. Gustavsson, who played well in relief of Ben Scrivens in Saturday's 7-0 loss to the Bruins, promptly found his way to the bench.
Scrivens didn't face a shot the remainder of the second, but Sean Bergenheim made it 4-0 when he scored on Florida's next offering 2:32 into the third.
Jose Theodore stopped the first 30 shots he faced, but the Leafs finally got on the board at the 3:30 mark of the third when Phil Kessel got his league-leading 11th of the season. Shawn Matthias scored Florida's final goal of the night with 3:25 left.
“We came out hard and showed we were prepared to play,'' said Theodore, who was named first star after making 38 saves. “The last game was a tough one, but we have the character to forget about tough situations.''
-- Tomas Fleischmann's seven game point streak (four goals, nine points) came to an end Tuesday,
Florida's top line failed to register a point against the Leafs.