Panthers solidify lead atop division


TORONTO—Jussi Jokinen wasn’t trying to score on either of the two goals he managed against the Toronto Maple Leafs last night.
Jokinen’s unlikely two-goal outing helped the Panthers to a 4-1 win in Toronto—further solidifying their hold on the Atlantic Division lead.
His goals came off two passing attempts in the second period that pinged off Toronto sticks to beat Jonathan Bernier, who had been superb in helping the Leafs to back-to-back victories earlier in the week.
“It’s too bad,” said Bernier, who stopped every one of the other 28 Florida shots he faced.
“Two unfortunate goals that we try to make the good play, stick on puck, and it ends up in the back of the net.”
Jokinen opened the scoring 24 seconds into the middle frame—his passing attempt to Vincent Trocheck deflecting off the stick of Leafs’ forward Ben Smith.
The 32-year-old added his second goal of the night about nine minutes later when his pass from behind the goal-line caroming off the stick of Leafs’ defenceman Connor Carrick.
Bernier had no idea where the puck was as it sailed behind him.
“Two goals that are pretty lucky,” noted Leafs’ defenceman Morgan Rielly, who netted Toronto’s only goal.
“I don’t think that they would argue that.
“But that’s just the way the game goes,” he reasoned. “They played well.
“They played with speed and they generated those chances.”
The Panthers added two empty-netters, including 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr’s 24th goal of the season.
Toronto was coming off solid wins over the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning, with Bernier stopping 64-of-65 shots along the way.
Last in the NHL with 59 points, the Leafs have played well despite a roster full of inexperience.
Eight players in last night’s lineup were aged 23 and under, including 22-year-old Connor Brown, who was making his NHL debut.
Brown became the 10th Leaf to play his first NHL game this season.
He was recalled on an emergency basis to replace Leo Komarov, who was hurt in the Leafs’ win over Tampa earlier this week.
A sixth-round pick of the club in 2012 and Toronto native, Brown was given the standard rookie treatment at the pre-game warm-up—left to take a couple spins around the ice before being joined by teammates.
“I tried to take a second to soak it in and it was pretty awesome,” he said of his near-16 minute debut.
Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock has been pleased with his team’s play in recent weeks, though felt there was lesson for his young players in the loss to Florida.
“We still have to get more competitive,” he noted.
“It doesn’t matter how much skill you have, you’ve got to win your battles.”
Babcock felt his team sunk somewhat after the Panthers’ second goal.
It was the fourth win in five games for Florida (40-22-9), which is trailed closely for the division lead by Boston and Tampa.
Three wins from matching their franchise record (43), the Panthers are three points up on the Bruins and four points up on the Lightning with 11 games left this season.
Roberto Luongo was sturdy in stopping 32-of-33 shots, including a Michael Grabner breakaway in the first period.
New Jersey dumped Minnesota 7-4, Pittsburgh beat Carolina 4-2, Detroit downed Columbus 3-1, Nashville doubled the N.Y. Islanders 4-2, Dallas edged Tampa Bay 4-3. Arizona upended San Jose 3-1, and L.A. nipped the N.Y. Rangers 4-3 (OT).