SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers’ scoring difficulties ended at the right time.
Coming into Tuesday night’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Panthers had not scored more than three goals since Dec. 5, a span of nine games, including an 8-0 loss in their last game against Boston.
However, the Panthers broke out of their drought as Kris Versteeg and Jason Garrison scored power-play goals for the Panthers in a 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs.
“That’s what we were really looking for,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “They’re a really good hockey team. We’re so respectful of the talent and that’s not just blabber after the game. We really were worried about the speed and the skill that they have and sometimes the best defence is a good offence.”
Erik Gundbranson, Bill Thomas, and Tomas Fleischmann also scored for the Panthers, and Brian Campbell had three assists.
“Right now with so many guys out, we may have to win games 1-0, 2-1, obviously it’s nice to get a few,” Campbell said.
Jose Theodore stopped 29-of-32 shots for the Panthers, who snapped a three-game losing streak.
Mikhail Grabovski scored two goals to lead for the Leafs. Dion Phaneuf also scored.
Florida was 2 for 3 on the power play. Toronto was 1 for 4.
The Maple Leafs trailed 4-2 in the third when Grabovski and Jake Gardiner hit the post on consecutive long shots.
Grabovski did score when a shot by Clarke MacArthur deflected off his left skate while falling backwards in front of the net. The goal at 9:17 was reviewed and upheld, and cut the lead to 4-3.
Fleischmann gave the Panthers a 5-3 lead as he sneaked a puck past Jonas Gustavsson from the right wing and the Panthers held on for the final eight minutes.
“He scores big goals for us, that’s what big-time players do,” Campbell said.
Florida, coming off an 8-0 loss to Boston on Dec. 23, struck in the opening period on their first shot on goal.
Tim Kennedy dug the puck off the side boards away from Joffrey Lupul and passed it back to Gudbranson, who rocketed a slapshot from the blue-line past James Reimer’ glove side for a 1-0 lead. It was the second goal of the season for the 19-year old rookie defenceman.
The Leafs outshot the Panthers 11-4 in the first and were finally able to score in the second. Grabovski converted after nifty passes from Cody Franson and Nikolai Kulemin.
Nineteen seconds later, the Panthers responded as Thomas got ahead of the pack and scored on a breakaway as the puck slid off his stick beating Reimer.
“You can’t do much about the guy who missed his shot,” Reimer said. “It was a kind of a flukey goal.”
Reimer’s night ended after the Panthers extended their lead to 3-1 on a power-play goal by Garrison.
Reimer stopped five of eight shots before being replaced by Gustavsson, who didn’t fare much better as Versteeg scored a 5 on 3-power play goal three minutes into his turn in net.
The Panthers’ second-period scoring barrage, which included three goals in less than five minutes, gave them a 4-1 lead.
“It was 1-to-1 and we were controlling the game,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “They scored early but didn’t have a sniff after that and from 1-to-1 we should’ve been able to springboard off of that and we immediately gave them the lead right back.”
NOTES: Prior to the game, the Maple Leafs placed D John-Michael Liles on injured reserve due to concussion-like symptoms stemming from a hit by Buffalo’s Paul Gastad on Dec. 22. … Lupul has recorded a point in nine of his last 10 games. … Panthers F Stephen Weiss (upper body injury) missed his second consecutive game. … Panthers top prospect Jonathan Huberdeau, the third overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, had a goal and four assists for Canada in an 8-1 win over Finland at the IIHF world junior hockey championship Monday. … Former NFL and Florida Gators star Jevon Kearse was in attendance.