Panthers beat Leafs for franchise's best record
TORONTO (AP) There's no more startling anyone for these Florida Panthers.
Rocco Grimaldi scored twice, Aleksander Barkov got his 27th goal and Florida beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 Monday night to set a franchise record with its 99th point this season.
Florida clinched its fifth playoff berth Sunday and then surpassed the 98 points reached by the 1999-2000 Panthers.
''We're at step one,'' said Nick Bjugstad, who also scored. ''We keep saying step one, keep moving on, we don't want to be satisfied.''
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.''
How good can the Panthers be in the playoffs?
''It's going to be a big challenge for us,'' 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr said. ''It's something new for a lot of guys to make the playoffs. We'll see how we're going to react. It can scare us away or the other way around.''
The Panthers were the worst team in the NHL as recently as 2013. The club finished that lockout-shortened 48-game season with only 15 wins and 36 points.
Bjugstad was a member of that squad and held mostly bitter memories.
''Those are some tough times,'' he said. ''Losing a lot of games and it's not fun coming to the rink a lot of times because it's a tough environment.''
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.
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.
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.
''We're trying to get as many points and try and play as well as we can going in and see what happens,'' Florida head coach Gerard Gallant said. ''It's good to get the home-ice clinched tonight and the next goal is to try and get first in the division.''
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.