TORONTO (AP) — Rocco Grimaldi scored twice, Aleksander Barkov got his 27th goal and the Florida Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 Monday night to set a franchise record with their 99th point.READ MORE: New Travel Restrictions In Place, Dow Drops 905 Points Over New COVID Variant Concerns
Florida clinched its fifth playoff berth Sunday and then surpassed the 98 points reached by the 1999-2000 Panthers.
Nick Bjugstad also scored and Al Montoya made 22 saves for the Panthers.
Colin Greening had two goals and T.J. Brennan also scored for the Leafs, who are tied for last in the NHL with 67 points. Jonathan Bernier made 32 saves.
The Panthers lead the Lightning by four points for first in the Atlantic Division. They don’t think they’re a surprise team any more.
“I like our team and I think coaches comment around the league that we’re a good hockey team,” Panthers coach Gerrard Gallant said Monday morning. “We all believe that. The players believe that. You don’t sneak up on people anymore. They know we’re a good hockey team.”
Twenty-year-old center Frederik Gauthier had perhaps the best early chance, finding some room in the slot area before missing high and wide with what would have been his first NHL goal and point.
Playing alongside veterans Brooks Laich and Michael Grabner, Gauthier drew top matchup duties for the game with Leafs top center Nazem Kadri serving the first game of a season-ending four-game suspension. Gauthier and his senior linemates were tested against Florida’s powerful top line of Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau and Barkov.
The unit wore Toronto out at points early, grinding and cycling pucks in the Leafs zone. One such instance actually sprung a quality chance for the home side when Grabner and Laich raced in for an odd-man rush — Montoya stopped Grabner’s shot comfortably.
Among the bigger teams in the league, the Panthers caused problems that way for the Leafs, who were dressing a number of players in their earliest NHL days, including Gauthier and 19-year-olds William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen.READ MORE: Black Friday Shoppers Out Early Hoping To Score Deals
Grimaldi scored his first of the game on a blazing rush down the left side. The California native fired a high shot far side that whistled past the reaching glove of Bernier. He added his second of the game shortly after, one-timing Reilly Smith’s pass through Bernier’s pads.
The puck was turned over moments earlier by Kapanen. Shots in the period favored Florida 14-1 at that point.
Toronto clawed back in the third.
The Leafs appeared to get on the board early in the period only to have the goal from Byron Froese called back on a coach’s challenge. Brad Boyes was deemed to have interfered with Montoya when his left leg and arm appeared to make contact with the goaltender.
Greening beat Montoya short side a few minutes later to give Toronto its first goal, cutting the deficit to two on the Leafs’ first power play of the night. Nylander set up the play, getting his 10th point in the 19th game of his NHL career.
The Leafs pulled within one 3 minutes later on the first NHL goal for Brennan since April 2013 when he was a member of the Panthers. Brennan’s blast beat Montoya as a crowd of players fell into the goal, almost like pins collapsing in a bowling alley.
The officiating crew for the evening huddled at center ice after the goal before Florida challenged the play for goaltender interference. The Panthers were unsuccessful on their second attempt, the goal affirmed on video review.
Barkov increased the lead back to two 36 seconds later with his 27th goal of the season before Greening added his second of the game and sixth as a Leaf less than 3 minutes after that.
NOTES: Florida got its 45th victory this season, increasing the franchise record for wins. … Kadri was also docked $200,000 for his four-game suspension, which came after he cross-checked Red Wings center Luke Glendening on Saturday. He was replaced in the Leafs lineup by veteran Rich Clune, who was recently serving as captain of the team’s AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.MORE NEWS: Cold Fronts Bring More Than Just Cool Dry Air To South Florida
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