As this shortened and seriously compacted NHL season has rolled along and teams have lost key players to injuries, you might have mentioned that the Maple Leafs were without Joffrey Lupul and it was as if his absence was viewed by many as a peripheral matter.

Not anything like Ottawa forced to play without the injured Erik Karlsson. Not like Vancouver pushing on without Ryan Kesler, or Pittsburgh filling for the absent Evgeni Malkin.

Lupul just wasn’t seen in that light despite the fact that before he was injured last season he was a top-10 scorer in the league (67 points in 66 games), and that without him down the stretch the Leafs collapsed.

Even Lupul wasn’t sure last season that he had finally reached his potential a decade after being the seventh pick overall in his draft year. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to continue to be that dynamic scorer and first-line attacker, or whether it was simply a career year.

Well, based on what he’s done since returning from a broken arm, it’s pretty clear that the Leafs didn’t get enough credit for being as successful as they were without Lupul for six weeks, and that this is now one of the better-scoring left wingers in hockey.

Two more goals from Lupul on Tuesday night gave him six in five games since returning to the Leaf lineup, and also saved the Leafs from what would have been an embarrassing setback against the NHL’s worst team, the Florida Panthers.

With the game tied 1-1 going into the third on a night when the Leafs seemed to be skating in mud as they played their fifth game in seven nights, Lupul redirected a goalmouth feed to give his club its first lead of the night.