TORONTO (AP) — The Florida Panthers are approaching every game with postseason intensity.
Brandon Pirri scored twice and the Panthers earned a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
Roberto Luongo delivered a solid performance in goal and Jonathan Huberdeau, Steven Kampfer and Pirri scored second-period goals to put Florida in front. Pirri added a late empty-netter for his 20th of the season.
“Right now, we’re in playoff mode,” Luongo said. “Every game is so crucial. These are moments that the younger guys are going to learn from and use going forward in their careers. At the same time, we believe in our team and we’re just going to keep plugging away and see what happens.”
The Panthers have 82 points, three behind Ottawa and Boston for the second Eastern conference wild-card spot. Florida faces the Senators on Sunday after a Saturday stop in Montreal. The road trip ends Tuesday in Boston.
“After the first (period), we talked about getting our pace and more north-south hockey,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said, “and I thought we did a better job, obviously.”
The loss was the seventh straight for Toronto, which is 6-28-3 in 2015.
Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier was replaced with 5:26 remaining in the second period after allowing three goals on 16 shots. The Leafs No. 1 goalie has been pulled seven times this season.
Toronto interim coach Peter Horachek said he made the change “to stop the bleeding.”
“That whole second period, the neutral zone was poor, we were porous,” Horachek said. “People were doing something that I don’t know what they were doing.
“We can’t get a 60-minute effort.”
Toronto showed some jump in the third period and Sam Carrick scored his first NHL goal midway through the period, thanks to a nice Morgan Rielly rush and setup.
“It’s a dream come true,” said the 23-year-old center, who grew up rooting for the Leafs in nearby Stouffville.
It took Toronto 6 1/2 minutes and a power play to get its first shot on net. Still the Leafs had more quality chances in the first period with Luongo having to be sharp.
The top line of James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel had six of Toronto’s nine shots in the period. But Florida’s top line of Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr turned the tide in the second.
The Panthers came out with more purpose, reaping the rewards as Huberdeau and Kampfer scored 30 seconds apart. Huberdeau’s 11th of the season, a high accurate wrist shot at 4:23, was followed by defenseman Kampfer’s blast from a tight angle. Barkov assisted on both goals.
Florida hit the crossbar soon after and Luongo stopped van Riemsdyk from in-close before Pirri made it 3-0 later in the period with a low shot to chase Bernier.
Luongo was beaten late in the period, but it didn’t count given Bozak swiped it in with his glove.
It was game No. 1,542 for the 43-year-old Jagr, who picked up his 1,793rd point with an assist. It was his 75th point against Toronto.
The game marked the debut of newly signed Penn State forward Casey Bailey. He lined up with Joakim Lindstrom and Carrick on the Leafs’ fourth line, seeing limited action.
Toronto recalled forward Greg McKegg from the AHL Marlies earlier in the day on an emergency basis with Zach Sill and Trevor Smith nursing injuries.
A young fan in the sixth row got Pirri’s stick as a souvenir when Richard Panik chopped it over the boards late in the game. Panik got a 10-minute misconduct for his benevolence. There were boos when an usher retrieved the lumber, although there seemed to be some negotiations taking place.
A Leafs spokesman said after the game that the stick was returned to the young fan.
NOTE: The teams last played March 3, when an ailing Luongo left and then returned to relieve injured backup Al Montoya. They Leafs won 3-2, snapping a franchise-record 16-game road losing streak. They have not recorded a regulation win since.
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