Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski relayed a message through the media Tuesday morning: His team, he said, needs to play like it is ticked off.
Or something to that effect.
Florida certainly played with an intensity rarely seen in last week’s embarrassing end to a road trip as it dominated play from start to finish of a 4-1 win over visiting Toronto on Tuesday night.
“It was collectively a great team effort, one of the better ones of our season,’’ Jovanovski said afterward. “That’s how we’re effective. ... That’s how this team is made up. Everyone has to tug the same way. If not, it doesn’t work.’’
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Said coach Peter Horachek: “I think it’s good to have a leadership that believes that and pushes that message. You have to put things on the line every day.’’
The Panthers coughed up a 2-0 lead in an eventual 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs last Thursday in Ontario but completely turned the tide in Sunrise.
Had it not been for the outstanding play of an overworked goalie — Jonathan Bernier made 44 saves — those blue-clad snowbird fans from the Great White North would have left the building much earlier.
Tuesday’s win snapped a three-game slide, one in which the Panthers were outscored 16-6 and outplayed far too much. Toronto had won nine of its past 11 heading into sunny South Florida.
The Panthers came out with plenty of jump as it looked as if the Maple Leafs spent too much time Monday night enjoying Fort Lauderdale’s flora and fauna at Elbo Room.
Florida kept the puck in the Toronto zone for most of the opening period as the Leafs didn’t get their first shot on Tim Thomas until 7:19 in. The Panthers had already taken nine shots on Bernier.
“It was just tight enough to be a little nerve-wracking,’’ Thomas said. “But we took it to them. That was the best game we played all year.’’
All told, the Panthers outshot the Leafs 19-4 in the first period and went into the third holding a 37-12 edge.
Unfortunately for Florida, the Panthers only had a 1-0 lead heading into the final period as Tom Gilbert’s long power-play shot was the only one to get past Bernier.
That power-play goal was just Florida’s second in 53 tries with the extra skater.
Florida padded its lead in the third period to give itself a little breathing room when Brian Campbell threw up a long shot. Jesse Winchester had Bernier completely screened as the puck clipped him on the way past.
A few moments later it looked like Florida had broken things wide open when Erik Gudbranson was given a goal he shouldn’t have. Gudbranson’s shot never broke the line and a review from Hockey Central confirmed it.
The Leafs finally woke up from their hangover midway through the period and made it 2-1 when Tomas Kopecky turned over the puck with David Clarkson wristing a shot past Thomas.
Florida finally all but ended things with 6:38 left when Shawn Matthias — who hails from the area near Toronto’s Pearson Airport — picked off the puck from Cody Franson and charged in on Bernier.
Matthias’ goal came on Florida’s 46th shot of the night.
Marcel Goc added the Panthers’ fourth goal of the night one shot later as he deposited the puck into an empty net after Bernier left with 2:30 remaining.
“It was a good 60 minutes for us,’’ Campbell said. “When we skate well, we’re a good team. We need the energy from the top every night.’’