SUNRISE, Fla. -- It wasn't quite as shocking as a snowstorm in Atlanta or Peyton Manning's performance Sunday, but there were a few extremely rare sightings in the BB&T Center Tuesday evening.
First, the Panthers scored a power-play goal, their second in their last 53 chances and first at home since Dec. 28. Then five minutes later, perhaps their most mild-mannered player, second-year forward Jonathan Huberdeau, went fist city for his first NHL fight.
Combine those rarities with goalie Tim Thomas' usual dominance of the Maple Leafs and it added up to a much-needed even rarer 4-1 blowout victory to snap a three-game losing streak.
Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski said after morning skate that they needed to play with an, "edge," because when they don't, "we're a very mediocre team."
"I think we have to just play (ticked) off, knowing where we are in the standings and want to win."
They did seem to play with a chip on their shoulders all night, particularly Huberdeau and forward Sean Bergenheim, who hit every Maple Leaf (5 hits) he saw. Their most obvious edge came on the shot counter as they outshot the Leafs 48-21, a season high for the Panthers (45 in a loss to Buffalo on Oct. 25).
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"It was collectively a great team effort, probably one of our better ones of the season," Jovanovski said. "That's how we're effective, limiting our turnovers ... trying to crowd the crease area and get some goals. ... Everybody's got to tug the same way. If it doesn't, it doesn't work."
And it came against a torrid, yet sleep-walking Toronto team, who came into Sunrise on a fathers-son trip in the midst of a 10-1-1 stretch, which included a 6-3 beatdown of the Panthers just five days earlier in Air Canada Centre.
After a scoreless first period thoroughly owned by the Panthers in shots (19-4) and puck possession, they finally lit the lamp just 1:14 into the second on a power-play goal by defenseman Tom Gilbert.
Just 44 seconds after Leafs winger David Clarkson was sent to the box, Gilbert uncorked a deep straightaway slapper that goalie Jonathan Bernier didn't see because Scottie Upshall was screening him. It was Gilbert's third goal, with assists going to defensive partner Brian Campbell and Huberdeau.
"I was a little worried in the first when we didn't score," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. "We got 19 shots and it's that close with a dangerous team like this. (Phil) Kessel can score from anywhere anytime. The guys stuck with it pretty much all the way through."
A few minutes later Upshall's two-line pass sprung Huberdeau on a breakaway, but Bernier broke it up with his stick. A frustrated Huberdeau, who has one goal in his last 24 games, then threw down with Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner and actually got the decision with a vicious takedown.
"I've got to be more aggressive on the ice, that's what I'm trying to do," Huberdeau said between periods.
Thomas, coming off his worst two games as a Panther, helped preserve the slim 1-0 lead after two periods with two slick stops on James van Riemsdyk, including a shorthanded stuff shot with 59 seconds left in the period.
A nifty back pass from Scott Gomez set up Campbell's wrister that deflected off Jesse Winchester for a huge insurance goal at 5:21. It was needed as a Tomas Kopecky turnover turned into a slot-shot snapper tally by Clarkson at 9:31 to make for some tense moments.
But Panthers forward Shawn Matthias made a sweet steal at center ice before wristing it short side for another two-goal cushion with 6:38 left. Marcel Goc applied the cake icing with an empty-netter at 17:30.
Thomas finished with 20 saves and improved his record against the Leafs to 21-6-5 in his first game against them since leaving the Bruins two seasons ago.
"It was just tight enough to be nerve-wracking," Thomas said. "We really took it to them. That was the best game we played all year."
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