Marner leads Leafs over Panthers

The Canadian Press
Joshua Clipperton

TORONTO–A night of both franchise and personal milestones saw Mitch Marner once again lead the charge for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The slick winger had a goal and an assist in yesterday’s first-period barrage before Toronto held on to defeat the Florida Panthers 4-3 and set a new club record for wins in a season with 46.
James van Riemsdyk added his 35th goal, and the 200th of his career, for the Leafs, who also reached a new high-water mark by recording their 27th home victory.
Auston Matthews, with his 30th goal, and Patrick Marleau, with his 25th, provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (46-24-7), while Frederik Andersen made 30 saves to set a career-high with his 36th victory of the season.
The Philadelphia Flyers held off the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 later yesterday, keeping the Leafs from clinching a playoff spot for at least one more night.
“Those things are all nice to get,” Toronto head coach Mike Babcock said of the records. “But we’ve got bigger plans. We’re just moving along and trying to get better. This is a good win, it gives you confidence.
“Marner was a star tonight, really set the tone.”
Babcock isn’t wrong there after watching the 20-year-old open the scoring on a hustle play before setting Marleau up to make it 3-0 with less than 14 minutes gone in the opening period.
Marner, who was equally strong defensively, has four goals and nine assists during his point streak, with 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in his last 20 games.
“It’s been fun,” he said. “This team is feeling confident.”
Jonathan Huberdeau, with two, and Evgenii Dadonov hit the 25-goal mark for Florida (39-29-7), which got 31 stops from Roberto Luongo.
The Panthers remain three points back of the New Jersey Devils for the second wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference, with one game in hand.
“These are the games you’re judged on,” Florida head coach Bob Boughner said.
“This team’s been pretty consistent for the second half of the season, and tonight for 20 minutes we weren’t.”
Toronto, which saw its club-record home winning streak snapped at 13 by the last-place Buffalo Sabres on Monday, came out flying, with Luongo stoning van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak inside two minutes.
But the Leafs finally broke through at 3:05 when Marner was quickest to his own rebound off the end boards to blast his 21st shortside.
Luongo thwarted another Bozak chance later in the period, but could do nothing when Matthews beat him five-hole on what turned into a 4-on-2 rush with the Panthers caught gambling at 9:24.
“Wanted to shoot it high and then at the last moment he was kind of standing up, so at the last second I let up a little bit and was able to sneak it in five-hole,” Matthews said. “I think he was guessing glove, and that’s where I thought I was going.”
Matthews scored 40 goals in 2016-17 as a rookie, but has missed 20 games this season with various injuries. He joins van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri (30) in the Leafs’ 30-goal club in 2017-18.
Toronto then made it 3-0 at 13:55 when Marner wheeled off the boards and found a wide-open Marleau for a tap-in.
Marleau tied Frank Mahovlich for 33rd on the NHL’s all-time list with the 533rd goal of his career.
“They were pretty much doing whatever they wanted in the first period,” said Luongo, whose team plays in Ottawa tonight.
Florida cut the deficit to 3-1 at 17:49 when Huberdeau zipped his 24th past Andersen.
Desperate for points in their playoff chase, the Panthers couldn’t capitalize on a 37-second 5-on-3 power play early in the second before Andersen robbed Huberdeau with a diving glove save after one of the penalized Leafs had returned.
But Huberdeau wouldn’t be denied at 15:08 when he picked the top corner on Andersen after Aaron Ekblad hit the post midway through the period for Florida, which was 13-3-1 over its previous 17 coming into yesterday.
Luongo shot out his pad to rob van Riemsdyk once again midway through the third, but the big winger followed up his own rebound for his 200th goal at 11:48.
“Time flies by,” said van Riemsdyk, who now has nine goals and three assists in his last eight games. “Seems like just yesterday I was getting drafted.”
Dadonov poked his 25th past Andersen off a scramble with 1:26 left, but the Leafs held on to set a couple of franchise marks.
“That’s pretty huge when you look how long this team’s been around,” Marleau said. “It’s a credit to the hard work the guys have put in.
“But there’s a lot more hard work to do.”
In other NHL action yesterday, the Coyotes nipped the Golden Knights 3-2; the Capitals vetoed the Rangers 3-2; and the Flyers soared above the Avalanche 2-1.