TORONTO (CBSMiami/AP) – With only nine games remaining in the season, it’s truly becoming do or die time for the Florida Panthers.READ MORE: ‘We Share The Frustration With The World’: Police Chief Takes Aim At Missing Florida Woman Gabby Petito’s Fiancé, Who Isn’t Speaking
One thing that the Panthers must do if they are to have any chance at moving into playoff position is improve their play on the road.
Following a frustrating defeat to open their five-game trip, the Panthers look to rebound by handing the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs a seventh straight loss Thursday night.
Florida (33-26-14) overcame a 2-0 hole with three straight second-period goals but gave up two in the third, including the go-ahead score with 2:28 left, in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay.
The defeat was the third in five games for the Panthers, who are 10th in the Eastern Conference and five points behind Ottawa for the final wild-card spot.
“We needed these two points,” center Jonathan Huberdeau told the NHL’s official website. “We needed it and it didn’t happen.
“We can’t do anything about it now, but just focus on our game and we have to come out stronger against (Toronto).”
Though the Maple Leafs (27-41-6) are suffering through their worst season in 16 years and have dropped six straight in regulation for the second time in 2015, Florida has lost five of six away from home. The Panthers finish this trip with games against Ottawa and Boston – the teams directly ahead of them in the Atlantic Division – before closing the season with five consecutive home contests.
“I’m frustrated for sure,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’ve got nine games, we’re not out of it.”
Roberto Luongo, who has a 3.27 goals-against average during his three-game road skid, took responsibility for Florida’s latest defeat even though Gallant wasn’t pleased with his club’s overall defensive effort.READ MORE: Miami Heat & Miami-Dade County Team Up To Vaccinate Law Enforcement Officers At FTX Arena
“Bottom line, I’ve just got to get better,” Luongo said. “You want to make a save when it’s important.”
While the Panthers showed some offensive life in the second period, they’ve gone 0 for 15 on the power play in the last five games and 1 for 17 in the last seven on the road.
Huberdeau’s goal gave Florida a 3-2 lead Tuesday and he has three and eight assists in 11 games this month. He’s recorded a goal and two assists in three games against Toronto this season.
The Panthers won the first two meetings with the Maple Leafs before falling 3-2 at home March 3.
The Leafs are 1-8-1 since that victory and have been held to one goal in four of the last five contests. Defenseman Jake Gardiner gave the Maple Leafs some hope with a third-period goal in Monday’s 2-1 home loss to Minnesota.
“We’ve got to take positives where we can get them,” said forward Joffrey Lupul, who snapped a 17-game pointless streak with an assist. “We competed pretty hard with a really good, desperate team. But again the point is to win.”
For a second straight season, Toronto is in danger of losing seven straight in regulation during March.
Jonathan Bernier made 30 saves Monday, and stopped 40 shots March 3.
Luongo has posted a 2.12 GAA while going 8-1-0 in his last 10 starts against the Maple Leafs. He stopped all 19 shots he faced in the latest meeting, which he left with an upper-body injury suffered in the first period before returning with 9:08 left in the game when backup Al Montoya was also hurt.MORE NEWS: ‘My Heart Dropped’: Parkland Woman Teams Up With Neighbors To Rescue Rabbit Found With Dart In Its Face
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)