Preview: Panthers look for another big win with visit to Toronto
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Coverage begins at 7 p.m.
TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs play nine of their next 11 games at home, but for now their coach, Mike Babcock, has eyes only on the first one at Scotiabank Arena, Thursday night against the Florida Panthers.
“I don’t worry as much about the stretch as I worry about tomorrow,” Babcock said at practice Wednesday. “Florida beat us the other night, we weren’t prepared at the start and they outplayed us, and then we were able to get the game back even in the third period.
“We would like to start on time, like we did (Tuesday) night (at New Jersey). We know we’re playing a real good team. (Aleksander) Barkov ran our show last game. Dominated us, basically. We have to look after that.”
The Panthers (13-13-6) defeated the Maple Leafs in Florida on Saturday 4-3 in overtime with Barkov scoring three goals, including the winner.
The Maple Leafs (22-10-2) completed their five-game trip Tuesday night with a 2-2-1 record after a 7-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils.
The Panthers, meanwhile, used the victory over the Maple Leafs as a springboard and defeated the Sabres in Buffalo 5-2 on Tuesday with four third-period goals.
“We’ve been in that situation so many times this year — one-goal games, trailing and coming back, letting a game fall again,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “It was important that. … I think we’re learning from our mistakes, to be honest with you. If I had to say one thing, I think we’re getting more mature in those situations.”
Playing for an extended period at home might not be such as big advantage for the Maple Leafs as it might be for some other teams. The Maple Leafs have the best road record in the NHL at 13-5-1.
“I just think we have good team depth, so if we play right we give ourselves an opportunity on most nights so we feel fortunate about that,” Babcock said.
The Leafs are 9-5-1 at home.
The Maple Leafs have been getting excellent play all season from defenseman Morgan Rielly, and he was strong in New Jersey again. He made a big defensive play on a Devils two-on-one to set up a Maple Leafs three-on-one on the counter attack that resulted in the first goal of the game.
Rielly also scored his 11th goal of the season in the final second of the second period.
“I knew it was getting down to it, so I just tried to get it on net,” Rielly said. “The fact that it went in before the end of the period was a little lucky. A nice break, I guess.”
“Well, he’s got way better,” Babcock said. “His stick and his feet in the D-zone and defensive awareness have become way better. I think getting Ron Hainsey has really helped him that way. Obviously, he’s got good growth, we all knew he was good offensively, but the defensive part it’s been a huge difference. He’s doing a good job, he’s a good player. He skates really well which would be his greatest asset, he’s competitive and has lots of energy.”
The Panthers, who are 6-8-2 on the road, defeated two of the better teams in the NHL in their past two games to get their record to .500.
“We’ve been talking all year about being composed and protecting leads, and I think that’s probably the best we’ve done all year,” Boughner said. “It was good puck decision and puck management. I thought that we played hard D, and we never stopped going at ’em, which was important. (The Sabres) do come out hard in this building. We knew that. I think they’ve only lost three games here all year. They’re a good hockey team over there. This was a big road win for us.”