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Bjugstad, Boyes lead Panthers past Maple Leafs

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Nick Bjugstad and the Florida Panthers spoiled goalie Drew MacIntyre's long-awaited first NHL start.

Bjugstad had two goals and an assist to lead the Panthers to a 4-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday at BB&T?Center.

"We were doing a lot of stuff down low tonight,"?Bjugstad said. "We had to get pucks to the net. First game for that goalie, and we wanted to get shots on him. It worked out for us."

Bjugstad, a rookie from the University of Minnesota, had the first two-goal game of his career and took over the Panthers scoring lead with 38 points. He  scored for the first time since March 1 to snap a 20-game goalless drought that included a brief demotion from the first to the third line.

"It's one of the longest droughts I've been on,"???he said. "I've gotten a lot of advice from guys because guys go through stuff like that, especially in this league. It's good to get that off my back and not worry about it anymore."

Brad Boyes had a goal and an assist, and Brandon Pirri also scored for the Panthers, who led after the first period for the first time in 18 games. Sean Bergenheim had two assists.

Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, back in the net after being a late scratch Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers, made 27 saves.

MacIntyre got his first career start almost 13 years after being a fourth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings and more than six years after making his NHL debut as a member of the Vancouver Canucks. MacIntyre, who previously had five career relief appearances, finished with 33 saves.

"I'm going to be very thankful, to thank God for the journey,"???MacIntyre said. "It's been a long, long time, but it was awesome. I have few regrets. I was hoping it would be a win, that's how I envisioned it, [but] I'm glad the first one is out of the way and very much hope I get another one someday."

MacIntyre's first start came in the building that hosted the 2001 NHL???Draft, although it was known as National Car Rental Center when the Red Wings called his name.

"I looked up right at the end of the anthem and saw the 'Draft 2001' flag and I smiled at myself and said, 'It's been a fun ride.' " MacIntyre said. "To get here, I found it so funny that this rink is my first game."

The loss continued a late-season slide for the Maple Leafs, who have lost 11 of their past 13 games and were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday after a 3-0 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tyler Bozak had a goal and an assist, and Paul Ranger also scored for the Maple Leafs. Bozak set a career-high with his 19th goal, topping the 18 he scored in 2011-12. Jake Gardiner had two assists.

"It doesn't really mean too much,"???Bozak said of his milestone. "Our goal was to make the playoffs, and personal goals don't really mean anything if you don't get to that part of the season."

Florida won for the third time in four games against Toronto this season. The Panthers have won seven of the past nine against the Maple Leafs at BB&T???Center.

Boyes broke a 1-1 tie with three seconds left in the second period when he redirected Bjugstad's pass across the crease on a wraparound. Boyes was hit in the face by a stick while he was scoring his team-leading 21st goal.

Bjugstad increased the lead at 3:23 of the third when he beat MacIntyre with a wraparound while Ranger knocked him to the ice.

Bjugstad made it 4-1 with a shorthanded goal at 6:02 when he beat MacIntyre on a 2-on-1 after taking a feed from Tomas Fleischmann.

"He's obviously got a bright future,"???Panthers coach Peter Horachek said of Bjugstad. "He's got the skill set. You can't teach [6-foot-6], and he can skate and has hands like that. A?????????couple of really big goals. The first one, the wraparound, that's something that somebody with a wingspan like that can do. And the shorty was a big goal too."

Pirri celebrated his 23rd birthday by opening the scoring at 6:06 of the first period when he beat MacIntyre high to the glove side with a shot from the left circle.

Pirri's 13th goal was his fourth in the past six games, but this one might have been even more special considering he's a Toronto native.

"It was a pretty cool feeling,"?????????Pirri said. "A lot of people back home, all the family, went to the local bar there to watch it together. It was good for the team to get a good start. We played really well in the first. We didn't let off the pedal the whole time. That was big for us."

Bozak tied the score at 1-1 at 4:13 of the second when he took a feed from Gardiner on a 3-on-2 and beat Luongo with a wrist shot to the short side. Ranger scored in the third when his wrist shot from the point went off Boyes' stick.

Overall, though, it was another disappointing performance for the Maple Leafs, who had a three-point lead for second place in the Atlantic Division on March 13 after a win against the Los Angeles Kings.

"Very challenging time right now for our group mentally,"?????????Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "The way we played, especially in the first period, was somewhat surprising. I thought we'd have a little bit more compassion for the goaltender that was going in the net for his first NHL start. We gave up three 2-on-1s and eight quality scoring chances in the first period. It was very disappointing.

"It seemed like the energy was down, our morale was down. You try to build them up and find a way. I was very disappointed we leave a young - compared to me - goaltender getting his first NHL start ... If that's all we have, then we shouldn't think too much of ourselves."

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