Brandon Pirri opened the scoring at 6:06 of the first period with a quick wrist shot from the left circle after taking a nice feed from Quinton Howden. Brian Campbell collected the secondary helper on Pirri's 13th goal.
The Buds struck back in the second when Tyler Bozak beat Robert Luongo off the post for his career-high 19th goal of the season to complete a 3-on-2 rush.
Boyes restored the Panthers lead with just 3 seconds remaining in the middle frame with a goal from in tight. Boyes and Bergenheim drew the helpers on Boyes' team-leading 21st goal.
Bjugstad put on a show early in the third period to salt the game away for the Panthers. First, he shrugged off Leafs defender Paul Ranger behind the net and powered his way in front to wrap the biscuit around Drew MacIntyre, who was making his first NHL start. Bergenheim and Boyes picked up the assists on the goal. Then, with the Cats shorthanded a couple minutes later, Big Nick ripped a Tomas Fleischmann centering pass by MacIntyre to put Florida up by three. Colby Robak also received an assist on the play.
Ranger redeemed himself somewhat by completing the scoring at 13:57, but Luongo, who finished with 27 saves, shut the door the rest of the way as the Panthers vaulted themselves past the Edmonton Oilers and into 28th place in the overall NHL standings. Oh, what a night!
Odds & Sods
- Nick Bjugstad's career-best, three-point outburst gave him the club scoring lead (38 points) with one game to go. The rookie had amassed just 4 points in his last 14 games coming into this one. Can he add two more against Columbus to give the Cats a 40-point scorer? Hope so.
- 30-year-old Toronto goalie Drew MacIntyre finally got his first big-league start, and fittingly, it came in the arena he was drafted in all the way back in 2001, when the Detroit Red Wings selected him in the fourth round.
- Birthday-boy Brandon Pirri's goal gave him 6 points (4G/2A) in his last 6 outings. Pirri is finishing up the season on a strong note.
- The Buds dropped their sixth straight decision on the road. The last time they won away from the ACC was against Los Angeles on March 13th, back when they thought they were playoff-bound.
- The return of Roberto Luongo proved once again the Panthers are much more competitive bunch with him between the pipes. Here's looking forward to a full season with Brother Louie in the cage next year.
- With Toronto out of the playoff chase, Leafs Nation stayed away in large part, and the game drew yet another disappointing crowd to the BB&T Center.
- The Panthers will be gunning for their 30th win of the season on Saturday night against the Blue Jackets. Personally, I'd like to see them hit this mark. They are already assured of a top four pick in the draft, no matter what happens in the lottery, but could lock in a guarantee of picking in the top three again with a loss and an Edmonton win (or extra time loss) over Vancouver. Maybe they'll claim the lottery prize and get the top pick they "earned" last year.
- If you feel like licking up some tears of unfathomable sadness, head on over to Pension Plan Puppets, where they should be raining down all offseason.