Nice work for the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, as they looked like a contender in Tampa against the Lightning. When they went into the 3rd period with a 3-2 lead, I think most Leafs’ fans were holding their breath. A 4-3 or 5-3 final looked like a real possibility given the offensive punch that the Lightning have. Leafs’ fans are familiar with losing those kinds of games as well, but Toronto has been unbeatable when going into the final frame with a lead.
We know that they’ve choked leads away in the past, though the narrative has been a little different in Toronto this season. They have no time to dwell on the victory, as they’re in Sunrise tonight after playing in Tampa last night. It isn’t the longest trip down to Sunrise from Tampa, so there shouldn’t be any jetlag or anything of the sort. After wins like that, though, there is the possibility of a letdown the next night. They beat the best team in the league and then falter against a struggling Panthers team? Sounds about right.
I don’t know, though, the talent on the Leafs severely outmatches the Panthers. Vincent Trocheck is nearing a return after breaking his ankle, but Bob Boughner is running out of excused. Luongo isn’t bailing the team out like he was earlier in the season, so the result has been seven losses in a row for the reeling Panthers.
They’ve been getting routed defensively, so it’s unlikely Trocheck is going to be able to make much of an impact there. Nearing 40 years old, Luongo is not the same guy that can be depended on earlier in his career. As the season progresses, I wouldn’t expect a guy with his miles to improve much. Head below for our free Maple Leafs vs. Panthers pick.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Florida Panthers Pick
Andersen had to do his best to preserve the win for the Maple Leafs in the 3rd period against the Lightning. He did a heck of a job as the Bolts were held off the score sheet in the final frame of the game. No doubt that he played a pivotal role in securing the win for the Leafs. Andersen will sit down tonight with the team on a back-to-back.
In his spot will be Garret Sparks who is set to make his return. Andersen and Sparks were both out, promoting the Leafs to trade for Michael Hutchinson to fill the void. If Sparks shows signs of struggling, Hutchinson would likely have an opportunity to be the backup. He was recently loaned to the Marlies of the AHL.
Sparks hasn’t seen the net since December 29th. He took the loss in that outing, as the Islanders got to him for 4 goals. It was the second game in three games that he gave up 4 goals. His numbers have been rather pedestrian, with a GAA of 3.01 and 0.905 save percentage. Whenever he gets the chance it’s important for him to be solid. With Hutchinson playing solidly, many fans wanted him to be the fulltime backup instead of Sparks. They are both considerable step downs from Andersen, though.
Considering how poorly the Panthers have been playing in their own zone, Sparks may be able to have a bad night and still get out of it with a win. Florida have gotten pummeled for at least 4 goals in their previous seven games for an average of 4.4 goals allowed per game.
Luongo has watched his numbers fall to a 3.34 GAA and 0.892 save percentage. He’s surrendered at least 3 goals in his last six games. December 22nd against a below average Red Wings team is the last time he had a good start. This looks like a win for the Maple Leafs, but Sparks, especially in his first appearance in over two weeks, doesn’t provide much confidence in net. The safer play appears to be on the OVER.