Sloppy plays cost Leafs a win in Florida

Leafs scorers: Panik (7), Polak (4),van Riemsdyk (16), Kadri (11)
Panthers scorers: Huberdeau (4), Hayes (10), Kulikov (1), Mitchell (2), Boyes (6), Upshall (5)
Goalies: Win (Luongo), 59:55 minutes played, 18 saves, 4 GA, Loss (Reimer) 58:21 minutes played, 28 saves, 5 GA

The Toronto Maple Leafs were back in action after a five-day break for the Christmas holidays and journeyed to the Sunshine State to take on the Florida Panthers.

The Leafs had an energetic start to the game and almost struck first on several different chances with the man advantage just a few minutes into the opening period. But it wasn’t long before the Panthers gained some momentum and almost capitalized on a few sloppy plays from the Leafs defence. Although both teams came close to taking the lead, the game remained scoreless heading into the second.

The Panthers had many scoring opportunities at the start of the period, but the Leafs were able to break away on a 3-on-1 just before the halfway mark and Richard Panik was finally able to get his team ahead by one. The excitement for the large contingency of Leafs faithful in Florida was short-lived when the Leafs were careless in their own end, which resulted in a tying goal from Jonathan Huberdeau just two minutes later. That was quickly followed by a go-ahead goal from Jimmy Hayes, giving the Panthers their first lead of the game. With just five minutes remaining, Joffrey Lupul found Roman Polak, who was all alone in front of the Panthers net, and tied the game at 2-2. It took less than four minutes for James van Riemsdyk to add to the Leafs lead on the power play. With the period set to expire, Nazem Kadri scored to give his team what appeared to be a commanding 4-2 lead heading into the third.

But as the final period got underway, the Panthers were ready to get back into the game and cut into the lead on a goal from Dmitry Kulikov. The Leafs lead was completely erased less than 10 minutes with a tying goal from Willie Mitchell. It seemed as though the two teams would be headed to overtime to decide a winner, but with just three minutes remaining, the Panthers found themselves on the power play when Cody Franson was sent off for a hooking penalty and former Leaf Brad Boyes scored to make it 5-4. Scottie Upshall added an empty-netter just two minutes later, giving the Panthers a 6-4 win and also making them the first team to complete the comeback against the Leafs this season. Toronto had previously gone 14-0-0 when leading after forty minutes.

Randy Carlyle, who was celebrating his 700th game as an NHL coach, spoke to the media after the game about his frustration with the Leafs relinquishing a two-goal lead in the third. “I didn’t think we were very good. We had a 4-2 lead going into the third, so you should be able to take that home and play a solid enough twenty minutes to get yourself two points. That’s the disappointing part.”

The Leafs will be back at it on Monday evening when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.