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SUNRISE (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – Nobody saw what was coming from the Florida Panthers this season.
The surprising Panthers will head into the All-Star break atop the Atlantic Division as they close out their first half of the season against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
Florida has won nine of its last 10 games at home, capped by impressive victories over Chicago and Tampa Bay on Friday and Saturday night.
The Panthers outscored the Blackhawks and Lightning by a combined 9-2 margin to become the first team since the 1990-91 season to defeat the reigning Stanley Cup finalists on consecutive nights.
“We know we can beat any team in the league,” Florida forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We know what we’re capable of and we showed it this weekend.”
The Maple Leafs posted a pair of impressive victories over Anaheim and St. Louis to start the new year and extend their winning streak to three games, but they have won only once in their last eight contests (1-5-2).
Toronto’s offense continues to stagger, producing a total of 10 goals during its recent skid.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, TSN4 (Toronto), FSN Florida
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (17-20-9): Toronto is coming off a 3-2 shootout loss versus Montreal that left Mike Babcock fuming about the team’s compete level and calling the fourth line of Rich Clune, Byron Froese and Daniel Winnik his best “by a mile” early in the contest.
“They’re allowed to be the hardest-working line,” Babcock said. “They’re not allowed to be the best line.”
Leo Komarov, who leads the Maple Leafs in goals (16) and points (31), has tallied only once in 14 games while second-leading scorer Tyler Bozak is mired in a 12-game drought.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (28-15-5): Roberto Luongo is riding a home winning streak of seven games, which included a pair of shutouts and a total of six goals allowed in the last six wins at BB&T Center.
Huberdeau, who managed only four goals in his first 39 games, has matched that total in the past nine contests to move one point past Jaromir Jagr for the team scoring lead.
“He’s always getting chances all year long. He just wasn’t putting them in the back of the net,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s playing with confidence, is bigger, stronger and just a good player.”
- Panthers sign C Aleksander Barkov, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, agreed to a six-year, $35.4 million contract extension Monday.
- The Maple Leafs are 0-for-21 on the power play over the past seven games.
- Luongo is 18-7-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average versus Toronto.
The Panthers face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, January 26th at 7:30 p.m. You can hear every game on Sports Radio 560 WQAM, the radio home of the Florida Panthers.
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