Maple Leafs-Panthers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 25, 2013
The Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to regain their momentum and potentially improve their seeding before heading into the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. They'll try to sweep a season series from the Florida Panthers for the first time in seven years Thursday night. Toronto (25-16-5) has already clinched a postseason berth, and is trying to gain ground in the race for home-ice advantage in a first-round playoff series. The Maple Leafs are fifth in the Eastern Conference, four points behind fourth-place Montreal with two games left. They're also one point ahead of the sixth-place New York Islanders with Ottawa and the New York Rangers lurking three points back. Toronto may have a chance to gain ground on the Canadiens, who visit a Winnipeg team on Thursday playing its season finale in the hopes of keeping its playoff hopes alive. The Leafs and Canadiens conclude the regular season in Toronto on Saturday. Before that, the Maple Leafs will try to shake out of a 1-3-0 funk after going 7-1-1 over the previous nine games. Their recent struggles continued with Wednesday's 5-2 defeat at Tampa Bay. "Our execution with the puck has to get better," coach Randy Carlyle said. "We can't make these same mistakes in the postseason." Joffrey Lupul has a goal in each of the past three games, giving him 11 with six assists over his past 11 contests. That includes a pair of third-period goals in a 3-2 win over Florida (14-26-6) on March 26. Phil Kessel, who has seven goals and eight assists in nine games, assisted on both of Lupul's tallies in that meeting after scoring one of his own in a 3-0 win at Florida on Feb. 8. The Maple Leafs last swept a season series from the Panthers in 2005-06, winning all four meetings. The Panthers are trying to conclude their home schedule with back-to-back wins for just the second time this season. They played the role of spoiler Tuesday, beating the New York Rangers 3-2 to keep them from clinching a playoff spot. Coach Kevin Dineen, though, doesn't care what opponents are playing for while Florida misses the postseason for the 11th time in 12 seasons. "Our goal is to concentrate on our game," he said. Tomas Fleischmann had a goal and an assist against the Rangers, giving him seven points over the past seven home games. The left wing scored in the most recent meeting with Toronto, while Jonathan Huberdeau managed an assist. With two games left in the regular season, Huberdeau is making a final push to become the first member of the Panthers to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year. He's the rookie scoring leader with 14 goals while his 28 points are tied for first with Ottawa's Cory Conacher. Huberdeau, though, has one goal and is a minus-7 over his last 11 games.
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