Maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs should just wave the white flag when they gain a 4-2 lead.
The Leafs blew another lead on Sunday in Florida, dropping a big wild card battle by collapsing in the third period. The Panthers scored four goals in the final frame to eke out a 6-4 win.
Florida got out to a 2-1 lead early in the second period thanks to goals from Jonathan Huberdeau and Jimmy Hayes. At that point, the Leafs were being outshot, 20-5, and the Panthers were in full control.
Things changed quickly. The Leafs rattled off three straight goals from Roman Polak, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri to reach a 4-2 lead. Florida continued to pour on shots, but James Reimer shut the door at the other end.
Reimer finally cracked in the third. Dmitry Kulikov scored to bring Florida within a goal just three minutes into the final frame. Seven minutes later, captain Willie Mitchell's shot deflected off a defender past Reimer to tie the game at four goals apiece.
The Leafs took a penalty late in the third period, and the Panthers capitalized. Kulikov fired a puck from the point, Brad Boyes tipped it in and the Panthers escaped with a big win.
Three things we learned
1. No Bernier, lots of problems. After his shutout win in Dallas on Tuesday, Maple Leafs fans were probably looking forward to seeing what Jonathan Bernier could do for a sequel. But when he fell ill over the weekend, backup James Reimer had to step in. Reimer's calming presence in net kept Toronto in the game early, but he grew shaky as the game progressed and helped contribute to the Leafs' late collapse.
2. Roberto Luongo would like a mulligan. The Panthers netminder started strong, but there's no excuse for letting in four goals while your team is so heavily outshooting the opposition. Luongo sported a grisly .733 save percentage after two periods.
3. The Eastern Conferencecard race got more intriguing. There's still a lot of hockey left to be played, but the Panthers capitalized on a big opportunity to drag Toronto back within reach. The Leafs sit tight in the first wild card spot with 43 points. Florida jumped within two points of Washington for the second spot with 40 points and is right on Toronto's heels. These are the kind of games the Leafs can't afford to lose.