TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs skated into a dangerous domain on Tuesday and managed to escape without a scratch.
Playing their fifth game in seven nights, the Maple Leafs returned home to play the 30th-place Florida Panthers. Getting up for a basement dweller never is an easy task after two emotional games against the division rival Boston Bruins, in which Toronto plucked a respectable three of four points.
But thanks to Joffrey Lupul's leadership on the ice and in the dressing room, a solid 40-save effort from backup goalie Ben Scrivens and some timely line alterations from coach Randy Carlyle, the Maple Leafs scraped by with a 3-2 win.
"You're pounding on a horse that's giving up down the stretch and you're hoping that he finds a little bit more heart and they did," Carlyle said.
The Panthers were all over their opponents in the early going and should have been up by more than the 1-0 score. Then about seven minutes into the second period, Carlyle replaced James van Riemsdyk and moved Lupul back to his old spot alongside centre Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel.
All of a sudden, the tide turned. Dion Phaneuf scored a few shifts later to tie the game. Lupul scored a go-ahead goal on the power play 22 seconds into the third period. Then, after the Panthers knotted up the game on the next shift, Lupul scored again less than three minutes later to put his club up for good.
"A little switch can freshen everything up," Lupul said afterwards in the dressing room as word circulated that he and his teammates had earned a day off on Wednesday.
Lupul in and out of lineup
A switch of teams certainly has refreshed Lupul's career. The problem for him has been staying in the lineup. Carlyle wished his star left wing was in the lineup more since he took over behind the Maple Leafs bench last March 3rd.
This was only Lupul's ninth game under Carlyle in Toronto. After two games last year, Lupul separated his right shoulder and missed the rest of the season.
This year, he broke his forearm early in game No. 3 and missed 25 contests. Upon his return, in his second game back, he was hit with a two-game suspension for hitting Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman in the noggin.
But now with another two-goal game, Lupul has six in seven games this season. And to think that when Carlyle was hired to coach the Maple Leafs, the immediate reaction was the player who would suffer the most would be Lupul.
There were rumblings that Lupul and Carlyle did not get along in Anaheim. But that wasn't the case. The player simply was miffed that Carlyle didn't play him more when he returned from his career-threatening back problems midway through the 2010-11 season. So a player-coach get-together wasn't necessary when Carlyle was hired last year.
"Not really. It's a new team. It's a new situation," Lupul said, when asked if he had a serious chat with Carlyle last year.
Lupul may not wear the captain's C on his sweater, but he certainly is the most vocal leader in the Maple Leafs dressing room. He spoke up in the first intermission after his club's dismal effort in the opening period. Then he went out and led by example.
It's part of the reason why the 29-year-old from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., was given a five-year contract extension worth $5.25-million US a season, a day after this shortened season started. Carlyle said Lupul's work ethic has rubbed off on his teammates.
The right-shooting, left wing admitted his work ethic has improved from his younger days, when all he worried about was playing. Now he spends more time in the gym during the season and more time working on his skills in practice.
Even when he was out with his broken forearm, he used the time off to improve his skating and conditioning. He also watched from the press box and liked what he saw.
"I felt the team was starting to get used to Randy's system. We were winning some games and there was a winning culture," Lupul said.
And we don't have to tell the Maple Leafs faithful, that's something that hasn't been in Toronto in a long time.
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