Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad (5) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Alan Diaz
April 09, 2016

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) The Florida Panthers wasted little time in adding to the best season in franchise history.

Florida scored three times in the first eight minutes in a 5-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.

''I thought it was real good the first half. We played real solid,'' said Florida coach Gerard Gallant as the team stayed on the ice to salute the fans. ''A game that doesn't mean a lot but you're trying to get through it and trying not to get hurt and make sure you're ready for the playoffs.''

Teddy Purcell, Jussi Jokinen and Aaron Ekblad beat goaltender Eddie Lack in the first 7:40 of the finale.

The win set Florida franchise season-highs in wins with 47 and points with 103.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored his 20th for Florida, marking the first 20-goal season for the former Calder Trophy winner.

Reilly Smith scored his 25th goal into the empty net with 5.5 seconds left after Jokinen missed, collected the puck and passed it out to Smith.

Roberto Luongo made 24 saves and matched his single-season franchise record for wins with 35, which he also did in the 2005-2006 season.

''Louie made some great saves,'' Gallant said. ''Right off the bat, at the start of the game, he made an unbelievable save and he made three or four real good saves after that. I didn't want him to get tested that much, but we fell asleep a little bit.''

Added Smith: ''It was a great start. I still don't think it was one of our best games. We gave up way too many opportunities. (Luongo) stood on his head.''

Florida will host Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series next week against either the New York Islanders or New York Rangers.

Elias Lindholm and Jordan Staal each had a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes.

Jiri Hudler recorded a pair of assists for the Panthers.

Purcell posted his 14th goal at 1:39 when he finished an odd-man rush off a pass from Hudler.

Jokinen beat Lack from the right circle on a two-on-one break at 3:58 for his 18th goal.

Ekblad recorded his 15th goal, one short of Jason Garrison's team record for a defenseman, after a cross-ice feed from Hudler at 7:40.

Huberdeau netted his goal at 4:56 of the second period from a shot in the low slot for a 4-0 lead.

Huberdeau's goal gave Florida five 20-goal scorers for the first time in team history, joining Aleksander Barkov (28), Jaromir Jagr (27), Vincent Trocheck (25) and Smith (25).

Carolina used a strong January and March to enter the playoff talk, but the team could not outpace Detroit, Philadelphia and Boston as it raced for a wildcard spot.

Lindholm recorded his 11th goal on a rebound from Staal's shot at 10:46.

Staal added his 20th goal at 4:38 of the third when he deflected in Noah Hanifin's shot from the point on the power play.

''We obviously didn't have the great start, but we started to play our game and get back into it. We showed our pride,'' said Staal, whose team improved by 15 points over last year's total.

Luongo stopped Staal twice, once on a short-handed breakaway, and Jeff Skinner to thwart Carolina.

''I think the game got a little loose at times, but he made some big saves obviously,'' Carolina coach Bill Peters said of Luongo.

NOTES: Carolina finished 35-31-16, and its 86 points marked the club's highest total since 2010-11. ... Florida swept the three-game season series from its former Southeast Division rival for the second straight season. ... The Panthers improved to 37-2-3 when scoring at least three goals. ... Florida finished with 22 wins and 48 points on the road, both franchise records. ... The Panthers honored D Brian Campbell before the game for playing in his 1,000 NHL game in Montreal on Tuesday. Current teammates and previous ones such as Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Jason Woolley and Rob Ray were shown on the jumbo scoreboard. ... Florida and parent company Sunrise Sports & Entertainment announced the promotion of Matthew Caldwell as team president and CEO. He previously spent two years as COO for the organization.

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