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Panthers score early to end long skid vs. Maple Leafs

Nov 3, 2006 - 3:32 AM SUNRISE, Florida (Ticker) -- The Florida Panthers put an emphatic end to their futility against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rostislav Olesz and Olli Jokinen scored in the first 11 minutes and Ed Belfour held the Maple Leafs scoreless for over 52 minutes as the Panthers snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-2 triumph.

Florida had lost its last six games to Toronto dating to March 2004. With the victory, Panthers coach Jacques Martin became the 13th coach to reach 450 career wins.

"It was a big win, a confidence builder," Martin said. "We needed it. ... This team is getting closer to how we finished the season last year. We're playing pretty well in the last five games. We're closer to the kind of team game we need to be successful."

Florida took advantage of a weary Toronto club, which was coming off Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay.

"When you're on the road, you need to play smart on those nights when you don't have the edge," Toronto coach Paul Maurice said. "We didn't have the edge tonight, and we didn't play smart."

Olesz scored his first goal of the season on a wrist shot from eight feet just 87 seconds into the contest. At 10:03 of the opening session, Jokinen took a cross-ice feed from Nathan Horton and easily beat Jean-Sebastien Aubin with a wrist shot from the right of the crease for his sixth goal of the season.

"We didn't have a lot of steam. They came out real hard, real fast, and we knew they would," Toronto coach Paul Maurice said. "It was our job to match that, and we didn't. They were rested and I'm sure quite angry, and they played like it. We tried to make a game of it, but we didn't have enough at the end."

The Panthers unleashed 23 shots in the opening period and outshot the Maple Leafs, 43-25, for the game.

"It was great to see the guys come out flying," Belfour said.

The 41-year-old Belfour, who was 93-61-4 with 11 ties and a 2.51 goals-against average with the Maple Leafs over the previous three seasons, stopped all 13 shots through the first two periods and recorded 10 saves in the third.

"Sometimes it doesn't work out, and it's unfortunate," Belfour said of his time in Toronto. "But that's the way sports is now. It's definitely nice to have a good game against the fellas and come out on top."

Belfour is 3-0-1 in his last four starts, having allowed a total of nine goals in that stretch.

"(My success) is definitely a combination of things, not playing every game," Belfour said. "When I get in there, the guys are playing really well in front of me, making my job easier."

Defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski scored his third goal of the season when he beat Aubin on a breakaway to increase the lead to 3-0 at 3:19 of the third period.

"You don't get breakaways every day, I guess," Kwiatkowski said. "You've got to keep it simple and I just kept it simple and I ended up beating him by a poke. It ended up being a big one tonight."

Blue-liner Bryan McCabe's one-timer from the blue line with 7:19 remaining cut the deficit to two and Mats Sundin's sixth tally, an unobstructed wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that went between Belfour's pads, brought Toronto within 3-2 with 5:51 to play.

But the Maple Leafs did not get closer and Chris Gratton's empty-netter in the final minute sealed the victory.

Defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who had scored five goals in his previous three games, managed just one shot as Toronto dropped to 4-2-1 on the road.

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