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Maple Leafs blank Panthers

by Alain Poupart /

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Toronto Maple Leafs lost any chance of earning home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it wasn't because they didn't do their part.

Phil Kessel scored twice in three minutes in the second period and James Reimer made 34 saves for his fourth shutout of the season as the Leafs beat the Florida Panthers 4-0 at BB&T Center on Thursday night.

The outcome set up the possibility of the regular-season finale Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens being for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but Montreal clinched at least a top-four finish by beating the Winnipeg Jets 4-2. That game went final about 30 minutes after the Leafs completed a season sweep of the Panthers.

"When you score four goals on the road, you feel fortunate, but we had a lot of things going our way early in the game and then we kind of just sat back in the third period and took some penalties and didn't really try to do too much other than just guard our safe house," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "Anytime you can win on the road, it's a positive. It's two more points for our hockey club."

The victory assured that the Toronto will finish fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs currently are fifth with a three-point lead over the Ottawa Senators, who have two games remaining — Saturday at home against the Philadelphia Flyers and a make-up road game against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

Saturday night's season finale against the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre figures to be a festive night -- it will be the team's first home game since clinching its first playoff berth since 2004. Toronto clinched with a 4-1 victory at Ottawa last Saturday and dropped a 5-2 decision against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.

"Can't wait," center Nazem Kadri said. "We've been away from the city for almost too long. It was nice to get up here and kind of throw our feet up a little bit and get two points out of it, but I'm ready to go back and handle our business on Saturday."

Leo Komarov and Clarke MacArthur also scored for the Leafs, who came in having won only one of their past four games after a 9-1-4 run. MacArthur's goal snapped a 15-game drought.

Kadri, playing on a line with Kessel and Joffrey Lupul for the first time all season, had two assists. The team's second-leading scorer, he had only three points in his previous 10 games.

"I've always wanted to play with Phil just because he's a world-class player," Kadri said. "I want to make myself better by playing with those type of guys. He really opens the ice out there for you, especially with [Lupul] on the other side.

"I had fun tonight. It's always good playing with those type of players. They kind of find you when sometimes you don't even expect the puck. It was a good game for us three. As a group, I was really impressed as well."

Kadri lined up with Kessel because Tyler Bozak was scratched for what Carlyle described as a maintenance day.

"We just thought with Bozak he's been worn down, you get other people more of an opportunity," Carlyle said. "We're about trying to get some people going, too. It's good to see some people got some goals, specifically Clarke MacArthur got a big goal for us. Hopefully, that's a sign of things to come. He was engaged in the hockey game."

Jacob Markstrom made 13 saves for the Panthers, who clinched the worst record in the NHL with the loss. Florida is assured of having the first or second pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. The NHL Draft Lottery is scheduled for Monday.

"That stinks when you're at the bottom of the pile," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "There's a lot of hockey teams and you're always looking to try to reinforce some positives for your team, but that is the brutal reality of our situation and it's something we have to sit on for four months. There's areas that we have to address to make sure we are back to where we have been recently. We have snapshots of some personnel that can do that, but I think it's going to be a long summer."

With the loss in their home finale, the Panthers ended up with an 8-11-5 record at BB&T Center in 2013.

It was the seventh time this season the Panthers were shut out. Toronto blanked them in both games at BB&T Center, winning 3-0 on Feb. 18 with Ben Scrivens in net.

"That's a lot," Dineen said. "It's something we continually address. Unfortunately that is a continuing struggle for us to find ways to produce offense. It's got to come from the group, we can't keep leaning on the same people. It's not going to be a top 10 highlight, we'll take the ugly part. We'll have to keep striving for that."

The Panthers ended up with two goals in three games against Toronto this season after recording five goals in each of its four games while sweeping the Maple Leafs last season.

Kessel's two goals gave him nine in his past nine games and a team-leading 19 on the season; he passed James van Riemsdyk and Kadri, who each have 18.

With Toronto leading 2-0 after one period, Kessel added to the lead at 1:41 of the second when he redirected Kadri's pass into an open net on a 2-on-1 rush.

Kessel scored again at 4:41 after he pounced on a loose puck near the crease.

Komarov opened the scoring at 5:39 after Jay McClement carried the puck behind the Florida net. McClement, playing in his 600th NHL game, tried a wraparound, but the puck slid off his stick and went across the net right to the stick of Komarov. His wrist shot squeaked through the legs of Markstrom.

MacArthur added to the lead at 14:32 when he scored off a rebound after carrying the puck down the middle of the Florida zone and fed a nifty backhand pass to Matt Frattin.

Florida had a great chance to score late in the first period when defenseman Brian Campbell came in alone on Reimer and deked to his forehand. Campbell had an open net, but his shot from a sharp angle went across the crease.

Florida outshot Toronto 16-1 in a scoreless third period.

"We didn't feel we played our best last night, so we wanted to come in here and make a statement for ourselves," Reimer said. "People will look and say what they want, whether good or bad, but we know in here how we need to play and the standard of where we need to be at. That's what we wanted to do today, we wanted to get right back on track and we were able to do that."

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