National Hockey League

 
      ***** National Hockey League Previews from The Sports Network *****
                              Sunday, December 28
                              (All times Eastern)
 
 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (20-12-3) AT FLORIDA PANTHERS (15-9-8), 5 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of Atlantic Division combatants return from the
 NHL's Christmas break, as the Florida Panthers welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs
 for Sunday's clash at BB&T Center.
 
 The Panthers haven't played since Monday when they salvaged the finale of a
 home-and-home series with Pittsburgh. Florida began a four-game homestand with
 the shootout triumph over the Penguins and improved to 8-4-2 as the home club
 this season.
 
 Toronto also was able to head into the brief break on a positive note, as it
 posted a 4-0 victory Tuesday night in Dallas. The shutout win halted an 0-3
 slide for Randy Carlyle's club and was the Maple Leafs' seventh victory in 10
 outings.
 
 This evening's test marks the first of four scheduled encounters between the
 Leafs and Panthers in 2014-15. Florida, which is five points in back of
 fourth-place Toronto in the division standings, won three of four meetings
 with Toronto last season and has claimed eight of the past 12 encounters in
 this series.
 
 The Panthers also have won two straight, seven of nine and nine of the past 12
 meetings in the Sunshine State.
 
 Florida won its third consecutive home game with Monday's 4-3 decision over
 the Penguins, who had posted a 3-1 victory over the Panthers in the Steel City
 on Dec. 20.
 
 Aleksander Barkov provided the lone goal of a seven-round shootout as the Cats
 claimed the extra point in the finale. After Simon Despres had his chance
 deflected away by Roberto Luongo to open the final round, Barkov faked a move
 from forehand-to-backhand up the middle and casually flipped a shot past Marc-
 Andre Fleury which ended the game.
 
 Florida has been no stranger to lengthy shootout battles recently, as the club
 has endured four shootouts lasting a total of 35 rounds in its last six
 contests.
 
 Jimmy Hayes scored twice in regulation and Jussi Jokinen once for the
 Panthers, while Luongo came up with 24 saves.
 
 "We've been beating some good teams here," Hayes said. "We have to continue to
 put pucks in the net."
 
 Florida will continue its homestand Tuesday against Montreal before completing
 the stay in Sunrise the following night against the New York Rangers.
 
 The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, are making the third stop on a seven-game road
 trip tonight. Toronto began the epic trek with last Sunday's 4-0 setback in
 Chicago, but the Leafs rebounded two days later when they downed the Stars by
 the same score.
 
 James van Riemsdyk led Toronto's offense with a goal and two assists, but
 Jonathan Bernier played an even bigger role in the victory, stopping all 43
 shots to post his second shutout of the season.
 
 Bernier's 43 saves included 19 in the third period. He picked up his ninth
 career shutout.
 
 The win allowed Toronto to avoid its first four-game losing streak of the
 season.
 
 "You don't want losing streaks to linger and that one was lingering long
 enough for us," said Carlyle. "Hopefully we'll use this as a little bit of a
 breather. It was the best Christmas present we could have given ourselves."
 
 Nazem Kadri added a goal and an assist for the Leafs, who also received goal
 from Tyler Bozak and Mike Santorelli. Phil Kessel contributed two helpers to
 the winning effort.
 
 Toronto, which is three points behind Montreal for the third and final
 automatic playoff bid in the Atlantic, improved its road record this season to
 6-4-3.
 
 The Leafs will continue the swing with Monday's tilt in Tampa and that means
 both Bernier and backup James Reimer could draw starts over the next two
 games. Bernier is 1-1-0 with a 2.58 goals against average in his career
 against Florida, while Reimer has a lifetime 1-3-0 record and a 3.47 GAA in
 this matchup.
 
 Luongo boasts a 15-7-0 record and a 2.29 GAA against Toronto and is expected
 to start tonight.
 
 VANCOUVER CANUCKS (20-11-2) AT ANAHEIM DUCKS (23-8-6), 8 P.M.
 
 (SportsNetwork.com) - The well-rested Vancouver Canucks will try to build off
 their most recent victory when they visit the Anaheim Ducks for Sunday's
 Pacific Division clash at Honda Center.
 
 Prior to the NHL's Christmas break, the Canucks were able to put together a
 two-game winning streak on the heels of an 0-4-1 stretch. Vancouver halted the
 five-game slide with a 3-2 overtime win against Calgary on Dec. 20 and then
 capped a stretch of four straight games at Rogers Arena with Monday's 7-1 rout
 of the Arizona Coyotes.
 
 The Canucks enjoyed five days of rest after Monday's victory, but hope they
 can muster the same type of offensive effort in tonight's game against the
 Ducks.
 
 Vancouver's win over the Coyotes was its most lopsided victory of the season.
 It also was the first time the Canucks won a game by a six-goal margin since a
 6-0 home rout of the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 6, 2011.
 
 Alex Burrows had two goals to lead Monday's scoring barrage, which marked the
 club's first time posting more than four goals since a 5-0 win in Columbus on
 Nov. 28.
 
 After mustering just 10 goals over their previous six games, the Canucks put
 up three in the first period on Monday to back a 38-save effort from Ryan
 Miller. Three of Vancouver's scores on the night came on the power play, where
 the club had gone 1-of-22 over its previous seven outings.
 
 Daniel Sedin and Brad Richardson had a goal and an assist in the rout, with
 Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and Shawn Matthias also lighting the lamp for the
 Canucks.
 
 "We're happy with the win. We did a lot of good things," said Burrows.
 
 Vancouver went 2-2-0 on its recent homestand and the club will now play two
 straight on the road, where it owns a solid 11-6-1 record in 2014-15. The
 Canucks will complete the brief swing Tuesday in San Jose. Vancouver is fourth
 in the Pacific and one point behind San Jose for the third automatic playoff
 spot in the division.
 
 Miller is 3-3-0 with a 2.56 goals against average in his career against
 Anaheim. The veteran backstop is expected to start tonight.
 
 The Ducks lead the NHL with 52 points, but Bruce Boudreau's club has dropped
 three of its last five games. Anaheim is hoping an eight-game homestand, which
 begins tonight, can get it back on the right track.
 
 Anaheim played Saturday in Arizona and dropped a 2-1 shootout decision to the
 Coyotes. Shane Doan was the lone scorer in the four-round tiebreaker, as the
 Ducks fell to 2-2-1 in their last five games.
 
 The blade of Doan's stick snapped off as he fired a shot at Frederik Andersen,
 who got a piece of the splintered wood with his shoulder but whiffed on the
 puck as it trickled past his left pad and inside the goal post. Devan Dubnyk
 stoned Ryan Getzlaf at the other end to seal the win.
 
 Rene Bourque scored for Anaheim, which is still 9-2-1 in December, a month
 that the Ducks began with a seven-game winning streak.
 
 Andersen had 28 saves, but was thrown by Doan's fluky shootout goal.
 
 "For a split second, I followed his blade and the puck goes the other way," he
 said. "It's a bad bounce but you can't do much about it."
 
 Anaheim, which won't play another road game until visiting Los Angeles on Jan.
 17, boasts an 11-3-3 record in Orange County this season.
 
 The Canucks and Ducks have split a pair of meetings so far this season, with
 each club picking up a road shootout victory. Anaheim has taken seven of eight
 overall in the series, but the teams have split the last six encounters at the
 Honda Center.
 
 
 
 12/28 10:49:17 ET

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