The two points gained not only put this year's club at 99 points, one better than the 1999-00 team who held the old record of 98, it reduced the magic number for clinching the Atlantic Division crown down to three, as the Tampa Bay Lightning were soundly beaten by the New York Islanders.
After a rather uneventful, scoreless first period that saw the Cats outshoot the Buds 9-6, Nick Bjugstad collected the game's first goal 1:34 into the second. Bjugstad pounced on the rebound of Aaron Ekblad's dipping shot from the point and his second stuff attempt found the back of the net. Reilly Smith picked up the secondary assist on the rangy Minnesotan's 14th goal.
Rocco Grimaldi added to the lead at 10:31 when he fired a bullet from the left wing by Jonathan Bernier, just inside the junction of post and cross bar, to complete a 3-on-2 rush with linemates Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell, who were credited with the assists.
The diminutive center struck again 2:40 later after Smith stole the puck from Kasperi Kapanen and quickly whipped a centering pass to Grimaldi, who pounded a one-timer home for his second of the night and the Panthers' third of the period.
Toronto could have been further behind if not for the efforts of Bernier, who made a total of 14 saves in the middle frame.
Grimaldi scored again early in the third, this time deflecting a Byron Froese shot past his own goalie, Al Montoya, but the goal was waved off, as Brad Boyes was ruled to have interfered with the Big Cubano's ability to stop the puck.
Colin Greening finally got the Maple Leafs on the board a few minutes later when he ripped a nice little saucer pass from William Nylander by Montoya at the 5:50 mark. Morgan Rielly collected the second helper on the power-play goal.
Former Panther T.J. Brennan cut the deficit to one 3:04 later, quickly undoing most of Florida's fine second period work. Brennan picked up a loose puck in front and shot through a crowded crease to beat a fallen Montoya, with the assists going to Rich Clune and another ex-Cat, the aforementioned Mr. Boyes.
Aleksander Barkov restored Florida's two-goal lead just 36 seconds after the Brennan tally. Ekblad delivered another low shot from the point and Jonathan Huberdeau was able to tap the rebound away from Bernier's pads back to Barkov, who notched his second straight game-winner. The goal extended Barkov's scoring streak to six games (4G/6A).
Toronto replied at the 11:53 mark, with Greening getting his second goal of the tilt. Montoya stopped P.A. Parenteau, but Tyler Bozak was there to center the rebound to Greening, who easily lit the lamp.
After combining for four goals in a torrid 6:03 span, neither team was able to score again, and the Panthers were able to escape with an important 4-3 decision.
The Cats are off to Montreal for tonight's game against the rested Canadiens at the Bell Centre. A win (or overtime loss) and another regulation loss for the Lightning, who play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, will give the Panthers the division title.
Rakes & Bags
- The win not only gave the Panthers their best record ever, it was also the 700th in franchise history and clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
- Rocco Grimaldi's second period outburst gave the rookie the first multi-goal of his young career.
- Jonathan Huberdeau saw his five-game goal-scoring binge come to end, but his assist on Aleksander Barkov's game-winner turned it into a six-game point streak.
- A few of the Cats' important secondary scorers ended minor cold spells with assists. Reilly Smith snapped a four-game point drought, Jiri Hudler a three-game skid, and Teddy Purcell a two-game slide. Jussi Jokinen is now point-less in four games.
- Al Montoya finished with 23 saves to raise his record to 12-6-3. His counterpart Jonathan Bernier stopped 32 shots for the Leafs.
- In addition to his two goals, Colin Greening led the Buds with six shots on goal. Nick Bjugstad matched that number for the Cats.
- The fine folks at war-on-ice have the fancy stats sap for you right here.
- NHL.com has a highlight package for you to see with your own eyes.
- Pension Plan Puppets has the other side of the final Toronto-Florida tilt of the season.