Surging Leafs visit Panthers

8:15 AM, Feb 4, 2014   |    comments
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( - The red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs will shoot for a fourth straight victory on Tuesday when they visit the sliding Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.

In addition to winning their last three outings, Toronto is 9-1-1 over its past 11 games and the surge has pushed the Leafs into third place in the Atlantic Division. Randy Carlyle's club is currently two points in front of Montreal, which is occupying the seventh of eight playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto wrapped up a perfect 3-0 homestand on Saturday with a 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. That came two days after the Leafs downed a visiting Panthers club by the same score.

The Maple Leafs and Panthers have split a pair of meetings in Toronto this season, but the final two scheduled encounters between the clubs in 2013-14 will be staged in Sunrise, Fla. Toronto has won four of the past five meetings in the series and has claimed two straight in South Florida.

Phil Kessel capped his fifth career hat trick with the game-winner at 14:02 of the third period to lift the Maple Leafs to their win over the Senators on Saturday. Kessel has nine goals over his last nine games and is second in the NHL with 30 markers this season. It marks the fifth time Kessel has reached the 30-goal mark in eight NHL campaigns.

"It was a big win for us obviously and the fans were good and we found a way," said Kessel. "I've had chances in a couple games before and obviously they went in tonight."

Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri each had a goal and an assist while Joffrey Lupul also scored for the Maple Leafs.

Kadri had three assists in last week's win over Florida and he takes a five- game point streak into tonight's rematch. The centerman has recorded three goals and six assists during his current tear.

Jonathan Bernier. who stopped 35-of-38 shots in Thursday's win against the Panthers, gave up three goals on 26 shots to pick up the victory on Saturday.

Toronto is kicking off a two-game road trip tonight and also will visit Tampa Bay on Thursday. The Maple Leafs will then play their final tilt before the NHL's Olympic break on Saturday against the visiting Vancouver Canucks.

The Leafs are just 10-11-5 as the visiting team this season compared to a 20-10-1 mark in Toronto.

The Panthers are 0-3-0 over their last three outings and the club is currently 14th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.

Florida has been outscored by a combined 16-6 margin during its current slide and the Panthers dropped a 4-1 decision in Columbus on Saturday. The Blue Jackets came up with all the offense they would need for the win in the last five minutes of the first period, as Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner scored 2:29 apart to hand Columbus a 2-0 lead.

"I thought our chances were better. We didn't capitalize on our chances. They capitalized on theirs," said Florida head coach Peter Horachek. "Playing from behind, playing catch-up hockey is difficult."

Brad Boyes scored Florida's lone goal with Brian Campbell and Scottie Upshall picking up the helpers. Tim Thomas allowed all four goals on 30 shots.

After going 1-3-0 on a recent four-game swing, the Panthers will play their next two games at home before finishing their pre-Olympic break schedule with Friday's game at Carolina.

The Panthers are 10-11-4 on home ice this season.

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