Cats Steamroll Leafs to Maintain Division Lead

The Florida Panthers steamrolled the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night, winning 5-2 at the BankAtlantic Center. It was their fourth victory over the Leafs in four chances this season. It was also the fourth time they had scored five goals over their potential future rivals, as they outscored Toronto 20-9 over the season series. Despite that stat, Florida is still ranked 14th in the East in goals for, with just 171. The New York Islanders have just 164.

During the third period, after the Washington Capitals defeated the Islanders 5-4 in a shootout, Florida was in second place in the Southeast Division, but with the win, Florida returns to the top spot in the division.

Much like the previous games against Toronto, Florida got ahead early. Just :59 into the game, Sean Bergenheim scored his 15th goal of the season, tying his career high. Keaton Ellerby launched the initial shot from the left point, and Mikael Samuelsson tapped the puck in the crease. James Reimer made the initial save, but Sean Bergenheim hustled in on the right side to tap the rebound into the wide open right side of the net to put the Panthers on top 1-0. With the goal, Garrison set the record for most goals by a Panthers defenseman in a season.

The scoresheet stayed silent until 14:43 into the second period, when Jason Garrison came in front on a powerplay attempt. Marcel Goc shot a puck from behind the right circle and Garrison deflected the puck in to record his 15th goal of the season, but it came just one second after the powerplay expired. Regardless, it put Florida on top 2-0.

Toronto did not give up, though. They were able to cut the lead in half in the final minute of the second stanza, as after Jose Theodore made the initial save on Clark MacArthur’s breakaway, Tyler Bozak came in to catch the rebound and score the goal that got the Leafs to 2-1.

Florida exploded in the third. 6:07 into the period, Garrison had a second opportunity at his 10th powerplay goal, which would have been the record for a Panthers player. Instead, his hard slap shot from the right point went off Tomas Kopecky’s inside pant leg. Kopecky was credited with his seventh, and the Panthers were up 3-1. Marcel Goc later followed with his ninth goal, off a steal in Florida’s offensive zone, to put the Cats up 4-1.

Toronto cut the lead in half once again as Mikhail Grabovski found a rebound and an open net, after Theodore saved the initial backhand shot from Luke Schenn. The goal came with plenty of time left, at the 13:50 mark in the final frame, and put Toronto within two at 4-2.

The Panthers shut the door and capped the night with an empty net goal, Bergenhiem’s second of the night and 16th of the year. He sets a career high in goals in just 49 games. It took him 80 games to get to just 14 in 2010-11 and 59 to get to 15 in 2008-09.

The Panthers welcome the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins as their Spring Break week of home games continues Thursday night at 7:30.

THREE STARS:

1. Jason Garrison (FLA) G, A

2. Marcel Goc (FLA) GWG, A

3. Tomas Kopecky (FLA) G, A

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