SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — James Reimer found a great way to celebrate his 30th birthday: He tied a season high with 46 saves to lead the Florida Panthers over the Boston Bruins 3-0 on Thursday night.
“If that’s what happens on my birthday, I’ll take it every day,” Reimer said.
Making his first start in six games, Reimer earned his third shutout of the season. Nick Bjugstad had a goal and an assist, and Vincent Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad also scored. Evgenii Dadonov added two assists.
Florida moved within three points of idle New Jersey for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers, who have won 11 of 13 at home, have two games in hand on the Devils.
“It’s nice to get in a groove, get in a rhythm, when you haven’t played in a long time,” Reimer said. “It’s big. We’re trying to catch some teams. We’ve got games in hand, which is nice, but those games are useless if you don’t win them.”
Anton Khudobin stopped 25 shots for the Bruins, shut out for the first time since their second game of the season, a 4-0 loss to Colorado on Oct. 9. The Bruins are four points behind Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay, with one game in hand on the Lightning.
“Give them credit, their goaltender credit, but sometimes it bounces your way, sometimes it doesn’t,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.
The Panthers stretched their lead to 3-0 on a power-play goal by Trocheck with 5:53 left in the second period. Trocheck’s shot from the right circle went top shelf shot over Khudobin. Trocheck leads the team with 27 goals.
“We’ve been in this situation before and you’re expecting that we’re going to be back in the game,” Khudobin said. “But, unfortunately this wasn’t that day.”
Aleksander Barkov’s assist gave him 70 points, making him the first Panthers player since Olli Jokinen (71) in 2007-08 with 70 points in a season.
“I’ve got to thank my teammates for setting me up and playing really well with me,” Barkov said. “I wouldn’t be there without them, but we still have 14 games left and all I think about is getting wins and getting to the playoffs.”
The division foes will play three more times this season, and the game had the feel of a must-win for the Panthers.
“With the race we’re in and the time left in the season, we couldn’t afford to lose two in a row, and we’re going on the road,” coach Bob Boughner said. “It was important to get back in the win column and get some points on the board.”
Ekblad made it 1-0 at 6:25 of the first when he swatted in a rebound out of midair past Khudobin. Dadonov made a cross-ice pass to Bjugstad in front and he pushed in the puck to make it 2-0 at 9:06.
Bruins forward David Backes was assessed a match penalty for a first-period hit from behind on Trocheck. Backes didn’t agree with the call.
“But it’s one of those things I can’t do anything about,” he said. “I watched the rest of the game when I wished I could help my teammates win a game against a good team.”
NOTES: Bruins D Zdeno Chara and LW Jake DeBrusk both missed the game with upper-body injuries sustained in Tuesday’s 6-4 win at Carolina. Boston recalled forward Anton Blidh and defenseman Paul Postma from Providence of the AHL. … Panthers D Alexander Petrovic was scratched with a lower-body injury. … C Frank Vatrano faced his former team for the first time since being traded from the Bruins to the Panthers on Feb. 22.
Bruins: Visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.
Panthers: Host the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
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