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Leafs at Panthers Preview: Feral Cats

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The Leafs travel to the Sunshine State for another high-stakes game.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers

Time: 7:30 PM EST

Location: BB & T Center, Sunrise, Florida

Broadcast/Streaming: TSN 4

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats

Every game feels like a playoff game now, as the Leafs try to qualify for the real thing. At the moment, the Leafs are still in the second wild card spot, at 76 points with 15 games remaining. They have a one point lead and a game in hand on both the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning (each has 75 points and 14 games remaining.)

Florida, very recently, was in the thick of this race, with a resurgence in 2017 after a rough start to the season. But they’ve now lost four straight, and come into the night seven points back of the Leafs. A Leafs win would pretty much snuff out the Panthers’ faint remaining hopes.

So we can expect ‘em to be desperate. Appropriate pregame music:

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Connor Brown

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner

Leo Komarov - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander

Matt Martin - Brian Boyle - Nikita Soshnikov

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner - Martin Marincin

Matt Hunwick - Roman Polak

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

You know these guys by now. Auston Matthews will be looking to snap a recent cold spell, in which he’s gone five games without producing a point. His fellow 1920s detective, Mitch Marner, is riding a point streak over the same period (six points in five GP.) You may also recall that against Florida in November, Mitch Marner did this:

In other Leaf news, Morgan Rielly is newly redeemed after a rough post-injury stretch, having scored the OT winner against Carolina Saturday night. Freddie Andersen will get the start, hoping to continue his recent strong play.

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Forward Lines

Reilly Smith - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trochek - Colton Sceviour

Thomas Vanek - Nick Bjugstad - Jonathan Marchessault

Jussi Jokinen - Derek MacKenzie - Denis Malgin

Defence Pairings

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Mark Pysyk - Alex Petrovic

Michael Matheson - Jason Demers

Goaltenders

James Reimer

Reto Berra

Up front, the Panthers boast a balanced top nine. Jonathan Huberdeau has been pistol-hot since returning from injury, and Vincent Trochek is having another solid year after breaking out last season. On the other hand, deadline rental Thomas Vanek has been undewhelming (1G, 0A in 5 GP since being traded), and the Cats as a whole are competent rather than spectacular offensively.

On defence, the Panthers have a very worrying question mark: stud defender Aaron Ekblad was hit into the boards on Saturday by Tampa Bay forward Gabriel Dumont and reportedly suffered a concussion. He looks to be missing tonight’s game (as does depth winger Denis Malgin, also concussed Saturday); the Cats have called up defence prospect MacKenzie Weegar, but the Panthers’ line combos are in flux for now.

Still, on the back end, the Panther boast productive offensive d-man Keith Yandle and two quality lower pairings. While it’s not clear how the reorganization minus Ekblad will go, the Panthers have the personnel to step up.

With Roberto Luongo out, our old friend James Reimer has taken over as the Panthers’ starting goalie. He’s been reasonably good, and has set up a fascinating expansion draft choice for the Panthers—Luongo is about to turn 38, is in questionable health, and still has five years left on his contract. At any rate, let’s hope Reimer’s feeling a spirit of Christian charity tonight—he has a chance to badly hurt his old team’s playoff hopes. Toronto had better come ready to play.

Go Leafs Go!