TORONTO (CBSMiami/AP) – It wasn’t that long ago when the Florida Panthers were struggling through a bad stretch of games in which they lost seven of eight.READ MORE: South Florida Family Encourages Booster Shots After Vaccinated Relative Dies Of COVID-19
While the Panthers are still trying to maintain some consistency, their recent surge of points combined with the Boston Bruins’ recent poor paly has them right in the thick of the playoff picture.
Make no mistake, Roberto Luongo and the Panthers are making their playoff push.
Nick Bjugstad scored the go-ahead goal on a power play early in the second period and Florida defeated the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Tuesday night.
Jussi Jokinen and 2008 Maple Leafs draft pick Jimmy Hayes also scored for the Panthers, who moved within two points of idle Boston for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It was our goal at the first of the year to be in the race, and we are in the race,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “When we’re playing good hockey we have a chance to beat anybody. … We’re getting great goaltending, and we’re finding a way to win.”
Luongo made 27 saves for the Panthers, his latest solid performance in a strong season.
“We know what the standings are all about, but we’re trying not to look at it too much,” Luongo said. “There’s a lot of road ahead of us and we don’t want to think about the big picture now.”
Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel scored for the Maple Leafs (23-30-5), who lost for the 16th time in 20 games. Kessel’s goal, which cut it to 3-2, came on a power play with 50 seconds left and Jonathan Bernier (14 saves) out of his net.
Toronto blamed the loss on a lack of discipline.READ MORE: 'Unacceptable,' South Florida Haitian Leaders Outraged Over What Happened In Del Rio, Texas
“The bottom line is we were in the box too many times tonight – four times in the second – and they got two (power-play) goals,” Bernier said. “That’s the bottom line, and probably too many turnovers.”
With less than two weeks until the March 2 trade deadline, the Maple Leafs are under the microscope as their rebuild goes into full swing. A large contingent from the Montreal Canadiens’ front office was in attendance at Air Canada Centre to survey potential trade candidates.
Recent trade acquisition Olli Jokinen made his Toronto debut and was on display with three other pending unrestricted free agents: defenseman Korbinian Holzer and forwards Daniel Winnik and David Booth. Olli Jokinen didn’t have a point but got to play at his natural center position on the third line.
“He’s motivated to play, he’s motivated to get back into the middle and play center,” interim coach Peter Horachek said. “He wants to prove that he’s still capable of playing. I thought he was really good, especially early.”
Toronto already sent defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to Nashville on Sunday for Olli Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick.
The first deal probably won’t be the last, and Toronto has a handful of players who could draw interest beyond those with expiring contracts, including Bozak. So it makes plenty of sense that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and a handful of other executives were watching closely.
Olli Jokinen, 36, is trying to ignore trade speculation and focus on the task at hand.
“My job is to bring my best every day here,” he said. “I’m here now, so I don’t think that I’m going to be somewhere else. That’s a wrong, wrong mindset to have (for) anyone. You can’t look that way.”
NOTES: Toronto forward David Clarkson left late after taking a slash to the back of his right leg from former teammate Dave Bolland. … A pregame moment of silence was held for former NHL defenseman Steve Montador, who died Sunday at age 35. … Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim, the subject of trade speculation, was a healthy scratch for the third straight game.MORE NEWS: COVID-19 Death Toll Tops 53,000 In Florida
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