It’s probably not a coincidence.
Vincent Trocheck is back, and the Florida Panthers’ seven-game losing streak is over, ending on Friday night with a 3-1 win over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
Trocheck, playing for the first time since he fractured his right ankle on Nov. 19, earned the primary assist on Mike Matheson’s game-winning goal to end Florida’s longest losing streak since it dropped nine straight from Oct. 22 to Nov. 10, 2013.
A 2017 All-Star who scored a total of 54 goals the past two seasons, Trocheck missed 28 games with the ankle injury. The speedy second-line center had been very durable before that unfortunate incident, playing all 82 games in each of the two previous seasons.
With Trochek back on Friday, the Panthers did just enough to win, getting the goal from Matheson, another one from sniper Mike Hoffman and an empty-netter from Frank Vatrano.
Hoffman leads the Panthers this season with 23 goals, Vatrano has 14 in a quietly effective season, and Matheson, a defenseman, has three.
Ron Hainsey scored Toronto’s goal, his fourth of the season.
Roberto Luongo earned the win, making 20 saves. He held the Leafs — considered a Stanley Cup contender — to no goals for the final 58 minutes.
Toronto backup goalie Garret Sparks, who made 26 stops, took the loss as the Leafs played road games on consecutive nights following a 4-2 win on Thursday over the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Leafs needed just 109 seconds to get on the board as Hainsey scored on a one-timer from the blueline after taking a set-up pass defenseman Morgan Rielly.
Florida tied the score with 9:02 expired in the first period. The Panthers got two players in the crease area, and Hoffman was able to redirect Keith Yandle’s shot from the point. With that much traffic, Sparks had no chance, and Nick Bjugstad added a secondary assist.
The Panthers took a 2-1 lead with 14:59 gone in the first as Trocheck’s pass opened it up for a Matheson drive — just his third goal this season. Jonathan Huberdeau had the secondary assist.
Vatrano sealed the Panthers victory with his empty-net goal with 1:46 left in the game. Mark Pysyk got the assist.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Panthers defenseman Josh Brown made his NHL debut on Friday, one day after he was recalled from the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League. Brown did not register a point, but he got 10:54 of ice time. Brown, 24, was Florida’s sixth-round pick in 2013. A 6-5, 215-pound Canadian, Brown has played in 167 AHL games in his career, posting seven goals and 20 assists.
▪ The Panthers placed defenseman MacKenzie Weegar on injured reserve Weegar took a head shot on Tuesday from Montreal’s Paul Byron, who was suspended three games by the NHL.
▪ The Panthers loaned rookie forward Juho Lammikko, 22, to Springfield. Lammikko, a native of Finland and Florida’s third-round pick in 2014, had no goals and six assists in 40 games this season. He made his NHL debut this season on Oct. 11 and has had just one highlight so far -- four assists in a 7-5 win over the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 19. But he had just one point in the 23 games since his breakout contest.
▪ That Panthers skid of 2013 skid cost coach Kevin Dineen his job. Ironically, in 2011-2012, he had led the Panthers to their first postseason berth in 12 years and their first-ever Southeast Division title. But, because of that losing streak, he was fired about one month into his third season with the team. The Panthers finally ended their skid on Nov. 12 against the Anaheim Ducks, who were the best team in the league at that point. The Panthers fell behind 2-0 but won 3-2 to give coach Peter Horachek his first win.