Maple Leafs-Panthers Preview

The Associated Press

While the Florida Panthers look to pad their lead in the Southeast Division, the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs hope to avoid something that has happened only once in the storied history of the Original Six franchise.

The Panthers try to build on their latest victory Tuesday night with a fifth consecutive win against the visiting Maple Leafs, who look to avoid being shut out in three straight games for the first time in more than 85 years.

These clubs have the NHL's two longest playoff droughts, and Toronto's seems likely to continue after a 2-12-2 stretch.

Trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2000, Florida (32-23-13) has a one-point lead over Washington in the division. The difference between first and second place in the Southeast, though, is third and eighth place in the conference, and the Capitals visit the struggling New York Islanders on Tuesday.

"We're disappointed we don't have a little more separation from where we feel we should be right now," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "We felt in the last couple of months that we have given up points, but this was our goal, to be relevant going into the end of March and into April."

Tomas Fleischmann scored for the second straight game and Jose Theodore made 34 saves for his third shutout of the season Sunday as Florida won for the second time in six games, 2-0 over Carolina.

"At this time of year, it's all about competing and playing playoff hockey," said Theodore, who has stopped 67 of 68 shots in the last two games.

Theodore has a 2.33 goals-against average while the Panthers have gone 3-0-0 against the Maple Leafs (30-31-8) this season.

While Dineen hopes the play in net remains solid, he would like to see more offense. The Panthers have totaled three goals in their last three games and have scored two or fewer in five of six. A 1-for-17 performance on the power play during that six-game stretch has not helped the Panthers' cause.

Fleischmann, however, has done his part in the offensive zone this season and against the Maple Leafs. One shy of matching his career high of 23 goals, Fleischmann has three and two assists in his last six games versus Toronto.

Though the Maple Leafs will try to avoid being shut out in three straight games for the first time since the only such occurrence Dec. 14-20, 1926, they have remained competitive of late thanks to better defensive play. Toronto's 212 goals allowed rank among the most in the NHL, but it has only yielded six in the last three games.

Jonas Gustavsson made 21 saves Sunday, but the Maple Leafs came up empty on 23 shots while dropping their fourth in a row, 2-0 at Washington.

"I believe that the teams that play better defense, usually the offense comes around," said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, who is 1-3-1 since replacing the fired Ron Wilson. "We are starving for offense right now; we need a bounce to go our way. It's not like we are not creating quality scoring chances; we are creating them."

Toronto has been outscored 15-4 during a four-game skid at Florida. Maple Leafs All-Star Phil Kessel has one assist during that span.

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