Published April 25, 2013
| Sports Network
While the Toronto Maple Leafs are gearing up towards a long-awaited trip to the playoffs, the Florida Panthers are on the verge of locking up the worst record in the NHL.
The Leafs look to avoid a fourth loss in five games on Thursday night against the Panthers, who take aim at a second straight win.
Toronto clinched its first trip to the postseason since 2004 with a victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday before dropping a 5-2 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday. The game was tied heading into the third period before the Bolts exploded for three goals, including an empty-netter.
"We have a lot of firepower, but it's just not our style to give up so many odd-man rushes," Toronto forward Clarke MacArthur said. "We're going to have to clean that up."
James Reimer yielded four goals on 25 shots, while Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul had the goals. Lupul has been limited to just 14 games this season due to injury, but has 11 goals and 17 points.
Toronto sits fifth overall in the Eastern Conference with 55 points. The Leafs are one ahead of the New York Islanders and four back of the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens with two games to play for all three teams.
The Maple Leafs end a three-game road trip tonight and conclude the regular season in Montreal on Saturday.
The Panthers also have two games remaining before they turn their full attention to next season. They sit last in the NHL with 34 points just one season removed from winning the Southeast Division.
Colorado is the closest team to Florida with 37 points and the Avalanche have two games left to play.
That means the Panthers are likely to have the best chance at landing the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft at Monday's lottery. Under the new weighted system, all non-playoff teams have a chance to land the top pick and the team with the worst record has a 25-percent shot at winning the pick.
Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones is considered top North American prospect by Central Scouting, while Finnish center Aleksander Barkov tops the European list.
A loss on Tuesday against the New York Rangers would have guaranteed the Panthers a last-place finish, but they instead snapped a six-game slide with a 3-2 win.
Jacob Markstrom turned in his second solid outing of the season against the Rangers. He made 36 saves in Tuesday's win and also stopped 44 shots to beat the club in New York on March 21.
"I thought he played great in New York when we won 3-1 and I think he was very solid tonight," Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said of Markstrom. "He did a real good job of settling us down. It was a well-earned victory for Jacob Markstrom."
Marcel Goc netted the go-ahead goal on the power play in the third period and Drew Shore added a key empty-net tally as the Rangers capped the game's scoring on a goal with 32.9 seconds remaining. Tomas Fleischmann added a goal and an assist to the win.
Florida will end its regular season on Saturday at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Panthers swept their four-game set with the Maple Leafs last season, but have dropped the two previous meetings this season. Toronto snapped a five- game slide in Florida with a 3-0 victory on Feb. 18, but has still lost six of nine overall in this series and seven of the past nine in Sunrise.