Sports

Panthers visit Leafs aiming to get on track

(SportsNetwork.com) - The struggling Florida Panthers will try to get their playoff push back on track when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs for Tuesday's battle at Air Canada Centre.

The Panthers are the first team outside of the Eastern Conference postseason picture and currently sit four points behind the Boston Bruins for the East's final wild card spot. Florida, however, has not helped its postseason chances recently, losing three straight and four of its last five games.

Gerard Gallant's club hopes to pick up the pace tonight when it begins a five- game road trip. The Panthers have not fared well away from home of late, losing two straight and five of their last six as the guest to fall to 12-11-6 on the road this season.

After losing in regulation in both stops of a two-game trip to Minnesota and Dallas, the Panthers were able to pick up a point in Sunday's home loss against St. Louis.

Florida's Nick Bjugstad tallied his 20th goal of the season with just 1:13 remaining in the third period to send the game to overtime, but the Blues eventually won the contest in the fifth round of the shootout phase.

Roberto Luongo stopped all but one of the 33 shots he faced through regulation and overtime, but allowed Jori Lehtera to score the winning shootout goal.

"We battled hard to tie it at the end there," said Luongo. "It's nice to get the point, but that's not going to cut it to get into the playoffs so we have to start winning games."

Luongo is expected to start tonight and he figures to give the Panthers a good shot at downing the Maple Leafs. The veteran netminder is 16-7-0 with a lifetime 2.36 goals against average in his career against Toronto.

However, the Panthers will not have defenseman Dmitry Kulikov this evening, as he was suspended four games Monday for his low hit on Dallas superstar Tyler Seguin in Friday's game. Seguin, the Stars leading scorer, is expected to be sidelined for 3-to-6 weeks after getting hurt on the play.

Florida has fared well against the Leafs in recent years, winning three straight, four of five and nine of the last 13 encounters. Although Toronto has claimed two of the past three meetings at Air Canada Centre.

No matter the matchup, wins have been extremely difficult to come by for the Leafs lately. Toronto suffered a third straight defeat in Saturday's shootout loss at Montreal. The setback dropped the Maple Leafs to 4-20-2 over their past 26 contests.

With its chances of making the postseason all but erased, the Maple Leafs are expected to be sellers at the trade deadline. Toronto began the process of acquiring assets for the future on Sunday when it traded defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to Nashville for forwards Brendan Leipsic and Olli Jokinen and the Predators' first-round pick at the 2015 draft.

Leipsic, 20, was a third-round pick by Nashville in 2012 and has yet to play in the NHL. Jokinen, meanwhile, is a former Florida Panther and a veteran of 1,217 NHL games, but he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Franson has compiled 32 points (6G, 32A) in 55 games for the Leafs this season, while Santorelli has notched 11 goals and 18 assists in 57 tests. Jokinen has amassed 320 goals over a solid NHL career, but the 36-year-old has just three markers and three assists in 48 games during the 2014-15 campaign.

The Leafs briefly led Montreal 1-0 on Saturday after Daniel Winnik scored with 8:41 left in the first period. However, Brendan Gallagher tallied just 41 seconds later and the score remained 1-1 until the Canadiens won in the shootout.

David Desharnais and Alex Galchenyuk scored in the shootout for Montreal. Santorelli extended the contest by beating Carey Price, but the game would end after Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk missed the net in the third round.

Jonathan Bernier turned away 31 shots in regulation and OT, but only stopped one of Montreal's three chances in the shootout.

"At least the effort was there. We played a much better game, a 65-minute game, but we didn't get the result we wanted. You have to manage the work ethic," said Leafs defenseman Stephane Robidas.

Beginning with tonight's tilt, Toronto is playing three of its next four on home ice, where the club is 16-12-0 this season.