Panthers surprise Maple Leafs 3-1

The Florida Panthers are starting to make steady progress in the

Eastern Conference.

Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes scored for the

Panthers in a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on

Tuesday.

The Panthers won their fourth straight and sixth in their past

seven games.

With the victory, Florida moved within six points of Toronto in

the Eastern Conference.

”We’re looking for progress,” coach Peter Horachek said.

”We’re looking for consistency in our play.”

Mason Raymond scored for Toronto, which lost for the fifth time

in their past six games.

The Maple Leafs, who played Monday night in Pittsburgh, did not

want to use fatigue as an excuse.

”There’s never an excuse: Injuries, tired,” goaltender James

Reimer said. ”Those are all excuses. They’re useless.”

Raymond said that he and his teammates ”simply got

embarrassed.”

The Leafs committed turnovers that led to all three Panthers

goals and were never really able to keep up.

”I echo those remarks as something that we cannot be proud of

our performance tonight,” coach Randy Carlyle said.

”We just didn’t play well enough. That’s the bottom line,”

Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. ”We take pride in being a team

that doesn’t get outworked. Tonight we were outworked.”

Center Nazem Kadri was the first Leafs player to make a costly

error. He lost the puck at the Panthers blue line. And seconds

later, Fleischmann had a jump on Carl Gunnarsson and beat Reimer to

make it 1-0 just 3:29 in.

Sloppy play continued, but it didn’t hurt the Leafs again until

a poor defensive-zone shift in the second. Defenseman Jake Gardiner

put the puck right on Bergenheim’s stick, but Reimer made a stop to

keep the threat at bay.

When the Leafs couldn’t clear it, Bergenheim got it back in

front and scored 5:54 into the second.

”We had clear-cut possession of the puck, won a faceoff, it

goes back to (Gardiner), they end up with a breakaway out of it,”

Carlyle said. ”It’s pretty hard to defend a player in that

position, and I told him so. You’ve got to expect to have a higher

level of execution than that in that situation.”

Phaneuf’s turnover contributed to the Panthers’ third goal.

Boyes poked the puck away from Phaneuf and scored seconds later on

his own rebound thanks to some help from Bergenheim in front.

”I made some mistakes tonight that are unacceptable,” Phaneuf

said. ”Take responsibility for it.”

The Leafs cut it to 3-1 not long after on their most

opportunistic play of the game. Center Peter Holland, filling in

amid injuries to Dave Bolland and Tyler Bozak, held onto the puck

long enough to get some traffic in front, and Raymond tipped the

puck past Clemmensen 3:43 into the third.

”I thought we got a little life after that,” Raymond said.

”We played some better hockey then.”

Carlyle didn’t like the lack of second opportunities.

”I classified our game as we tried to plan shinny against an

NHL hockey club tonight,” he said.

Clemmensen made 28 saves for the victory.

The veteran goalie acknowledged, as did Horachek and other

Panthers players, that the Leafs were tired.

But it was incumbent on the visitors to take advantage of

that.

”We were hoping to have a little bit more energy than they

had,” Clemmensen said. ”Fortunately for us, we kept them off the

board until the third period. That, in turn, kept the crowd out of

it. That was big.”

This was their third victory in the past two weeks against a

team being featured on HBO’s ”24/7” program. Florida beat the

Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 7 and Dec. 10.

The Leafs are looking to get things going in the right

direction.

”Everyone is trying to turn it around,” center Jay McClement

said. ”It seems like we need all of us to step up and take the

reins and change things. But it seems like we’re waiting too long

to do that.”

NOTES: Center Trevor Smith broke a bone in his right hand when

blocking a shot from the Panthers’ Shawn Matthias in the third

period, Carlyle said. Smith has four goals and five assists in 24

games this season. … Last year’s Calder Trophy winner, Jonathan

Huberdeau, missed his second straight game with a foot injury.

Horachek said he could have played and is hopefully on target to be

in the lineup Thursday when Florida visits the Ottawa Senators.