TORONTO – Randy Carlyle called Nazem Kadri’s performance Thursday night the best he’s seen in a long time.
Kadri had three assists extending his point streak to four games as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Florida Panthers 6-3.
Nikolai Kulemin one-timed a Kadri feed at the four-minute mark of the third period for the game-winner. The assist was Kadri’s 100th career N.H.L. point.
“It’s a great achievement for myself, but hopefully there’s a lot more to come,” said Kadri, who has two goals and five assists on his current point steak. “You got to think to yourself when the points are coming easy, it’s just not all about that, you got to make sure you’re good in your D zone, bearing down on face-offs and just allow the coaching staff to put you on the ice in those crucial situations.”
With the Leafs trailing 2-0 in the first, Kadri set up Cody Franson at 16:49 to get Toronto’s comeback rolling.
Then with the Leafs leading 4-2 in the third, the 23-year-old London, Ont. native set up Joffrey Lupul at 6:22, on a power play, for the insurance marker.
“Nazy was a difference maker tonight,” said Carlyle. “That’s probably the best game he’s played in a long time and at both ends of the rink obviously with the points and distributing the puck, that was making some big league plays.”
Toronto (29-21-6) also got goals from Mason Raymond, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak as they extended their win streak on home ice to five games.
Florida (21-26-7) got first period goals from Nick Bjugstad and Sean Bergenheim. Dmitry Kulikov had the other Panthers goal.
“When a team comes out after they’ve lost the period, they’re probably getting some bad words from the coach,” said Kulikov. “We knew they were going to come out strong in the second period and we didn’t handle it.”
Scott Clemmensen made 26 saves for his fifth loss of the season. Jonathan Bernier made 35 saves in the win.
Toronto won five in a row on home ice from Oct. 22 to Nov. 19. The Leafs have just two regulation losses in their past 11 games.
Florida scored twice on their first seven shots to open a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Bjugstad opened the scoring 1:39 into the first, beating Bernier with a backhand blocker side for his 12th goal of the season.
Bergenheim finished off a 2-on-1 feed from Brad Boyes at 13:50 to give the Panthers a two-goal lead. The assist was the 250th of Boyes’ career.
“We were kind of stunned,” said Carlyle. “The first shot on goal was in our net. It set us back a little bit and we weren’t really moving our feet. We seemed to find a way to get it going.”
It was all Toronto after that as the Leafs scored five unanswered goals.
After Franson cut Florida’s lead in the first, the Leafs scored twice in the first minute of the second period to take a 3-2 lead.
Raymond scored off the rush, with a wrist shot, glove-side on Clemmensen 27 seconds into the period for his 14th of the season. Van Riemsdyk tipped a Phil Kessel shot past Clemmensen at 57 seconds of the second period, on a power play.
With the goal, van Riemsdyk surpassed his previous single-season goals total of 21 set during the 2010-11 season while he was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Bozak finished off a 2-on-1 feed from Kessel at 18:37 of the third.
“A few weeks ago, it felt like the sky was falling in Toronto,” said Kadri of the four-game losing streak. “We understood that it was nothing to panic about, we just rallied around each other. “
Added Franson: “We’re moving in the right direction and I don’t know if you can call it a swagger, but our play is getting better and at the end of the day that’s all you’re looking to do is progressively progress.”
Toronto concludes its three-game home stand Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.
Notes: Leafs coach Randy Carlyle expects David Clarkson (elbow) to return during the team’s two-game road trip in Florida.…Toronto forward David Bolland (ankle) is 50-50 to return to the lineup prior to the Olympic break according to Carlyle.…Florida forward Shawn Matthias (illness) returned to the lineup Thursday.