Panthers 5, Maple Leafs 3

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 28, 2012
Mike Santorelli scored twice Tuesday night as the Florida Panthers handed the sinking Maple Leafs a 5-3 loss, an all-too-familiar outcome for fans in Toronto. Loud chants of ''Fire Wilson!'' directed at coach Ron Wilson were heard twice during the third period as the Leafs lost for the ninth time in 10 games, including all four on a disheartening homestand. Toronto sits four points out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Marcel Goc, Jason Garrison and Stephen Weiss also scored for Florida, which leads the Southeast Division with 72 points. Jose Theodore added 28 saves. Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul replied for the Maple Leafs. A day after general manager Brian Burke expressed hope that the passing of the trade deadline would relax the Leafs, the team was felled by a familiar shortcoming: an awful start. Defenseman Luke Schenn let the puck slip off his stick right after the opening faceoff and Wojtek Wolski set Goc up for a goal just 13 seconds in. The hole got bigger two minutes later when Santorelli finished off a two-on-one with Jack Skille, setting off a round of boos at Air Canada Centre. It was the fifth straight game the Leafs fell behind 2-0. This one was particularly difficult for James Reimer, the embattled goaltender who couldn't really be faulted for the shoddy play in front of him. His first save came almost 11 minutes in - he was cheered sarcastically. Toronto seemed to get going as the period went on and Lupul appeared to cut into the lead late in the first. However, his goal was overturned by video review because he didn't get a stick on the puck after trying to kick it up for a shot. Kessel ended up making it 2-1 midway in the second period with his 32nd goal of the season, beating Thoedore with a nice wrist shot on the power play. But the Panthers found an answer on a man advantage of their own, with Santorelli knocking home his second of the night after Reimer coughed up a big rebound of Tomas Fleischmann's shot. The mood turned ugly after Garrison scored his 14th early in the third period to put Florida ahead 4-1. That set off the first round of chants calling for Wilson's job, something two local columnists have put in print recently. Toronto currently owns the NHL's second-longest playoff drought at eight years, behind only the Panthers, and Wilson is in his fourth season with the team. Burke gave a public declaration of support for his coach while speaking to reporters after Monday's trade deadline. The chants were renewed after Kulemin and Weiss traded goals 61 seconds apart and only subsided in the waning minutes because fans cleared out of the building en masse. Lupul scored late, but there would be no comeback. Notes:(at) Wilson coached his 1,400th career NHL game, tying him with Pat Quinn for fourth on the all-time list. ... The Panthers were missing leading scorer Kris Versteeg to a lower-body injury. ... Toronto scratched Colby Armstrong and Cody Franson. ... Florida is 11-2-2 against Canadian teams this season. It visits Winnipeg on Thursday.
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