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RAKING UP: Bjugstad Breaks Slump with Two Goals, Three Points in 4-2 Win over Leafs ... Bjugstad Now Team Leading Scorer

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The collapse is over for the Toronto Maple Leafs yet the free fall continued Thursday night.

With its playoff hopes extinguished two nights earlier, Toronto limped into BB&T Center with a pared down lineup and a journeyman goalie making his first NHL start.

Thanks to a pair of third period goals from Nick Bjugstad, Florida ran away with a 4-2 win to take three of four in the season series.

"We needed to get pucks at the net. That was the first game for their goalie and we wanted to get some shots,'' said Bjugstad, a rookie who is now Florida's leading scorer.

"We started off well which is a different technique for us. It was nice to have the lead.''

Any thought of the Panthers making the playoffs disappeared months ago, yet for Toronto, the sting of this disappointment is still very fresh.

On March 13, Toronto was ranked second in the Atlantic Division and held a seven point lead on a playoff spot.

The team lost its next eight games and will miss the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years. Last year, Boston rallied and knocked the Leafs out of the first round.

For Florida, Thursday's win was its second in three games -- a rare bright spot in a season of bleak ones. Toronto, meanwhile, has lost 11 of 13 heading into Saturday's finale at Ottawa.

The Panthers' season also concludes Saturday against the visiting Blue Jackets.

"We had two games left and I really wanted to see that positive response at this time of year,'' said coach Peter Horachek, whose team never trailed. "We wanted to feel positive about these two home games. It was something we needed to do. We want to make sure we're doing the right things.''

With Roberto Luongo back for the Panthers, Toronto countered with 30-year-old Drew MacIntyre in net. MacIntyre, who broke into the minors in 2003, started well but found himself down 1-0 when Brandon Pirri continued his hot streak for the Panthers by scoring 6:06 in.

Toronto tied things 4:13 into the second when Tyler Bozak zipped some high cheese past Luongo. Florida took the lead into the second break when Brad Boyes popped in Nick Bjugstad's feed with three seconds left in the period.

Bjugstad, perhaps excited his Minnesota Golden Gophers were playing in the Frozen Four, made it 3-1 early in the third before putting the capper on the game minutes later.

"That was one of my longest droughts of my life,'' said Bjugstad, who hadn't scored a goal in 20 games. "It was good to get off that.''


The Panthers had an old friend back in the building on Thursday as Scott Clemmensen was recalled to back up Luongo against Toronto.

Usual backup Dan Ellis, who filled in for Luongo on Tuesday, was "nicked up" at practice on Wednesday said Horachek.

Clemmensen wasn't able to take part in Thursday's morning skate however because of flight issues on Wednesday. Although Clemmensen arrived in Fort Lauderdale around 1 a.m. on Thursday, his equipment bag didn't get in until the skate had already concluded.

-- Bjugstad recorded three points to take over as Florida's leading scorer with 38 points.

The Panthers have one game left to try and avoid setting an NHL record for fewest points by a team's leading scorer. Minnesota's Scott Pellerin had 39 points for the expansion Wild in 2000-01.

-- Ron Young, the team's longtime timekeeper and crew chief for the NHL's off-ice officials, dropped the ceremonial first puck before Thursday's game.

Young has been working Panthers games since their first season in 1993 but is moving to Toronto after Saturday's season finale.



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Just wanted to see the kids do well, and I think they did just that.

Bjugs was great, Howden had jump, Pirri burried his chance, Guds and Kulikov were aggressive and physical, Huby should'a had a goal, but that just seems to be the way his season has gone. Pretty good all the way around, IMO. I really like Shores aggressiveness and drive, but the guy just can't finish, at least not in tight spaces, and that's where the real skill guys, the guys with "hands" really make they're money. Don't think he'll be more than a 3rd or 4th line Center, not that it's a bad thing, but if he wants to make the club outta camp next year, he's gonna have to beat out Trocheck and possibly Bennett or Reinhart, whom Tha Cats will probably be taking in the drafts 1 round....tought sledding, that.

On the flip side, once again, Flash couldn't hit water if he fell outta a freakin boat. Just snakebit, that guy, I feel for him, he's MUCH more skilled than his results have currently shown, but, you are what your results say you are, and this is a results-based reality, no more , no less.

Upshall is another guy who might have his uses, but it's just not on the top 2 lines, IMO. Would be an awesome 3dr or 4th liner. Great energy, takes the body without fear, good PK'er, good charecter/locker room guy. He has a year left, it could be worse.

Looks like The Cats are set up the middle, and will probably bolster that depth when The NHL Draft is done, so thay'll probably look to move some of that depth for help on the wing, which should be priority #1, followed by defensive help(Jovo has got to go, unfortunately), and backup goalie, in that order.

1st round pick needs to part of a package trade for a top forward/ defenseman

This team will be special next season.

Aprils fools day has passed Seth.

Edmonton loses, Panthers won. As a Panthers fan, I hope the Cats lose their last game and Oilers win theirs, in order to better position ourselves for the draft.

Gotta say, I'm impressed with Bjug. I Wonder who is better on the top line...Bjug or Barkov?

Like who, Hank?

I wouldn't mind a trade-down if it involved getting Nic Ehlers, who I think is the type of dynamic, game-changer The Cats need on one of the top 2 lines. NOt the biggest guy, but damn if he isn't one skilled SOB.

I can see a trade involving the current talent either on the roster, or in the system, but I would be curious as to who you think is available in a trade for the first 3 picks(where The Cats will be ultimately drafting), who isn't making so much that it takes up most of your cap space(which is probably why they're being traded in the forst place), and who doesn't have a "no-trade clause", or a no-trade clause they would be willing to waive(like Campbell did).

Most of the "star" players have a no-trade(NT), and while I would love to have a player like Ovechkin in a Panthers sweater, I just don't think he'd agree to come here, and that has to be taken into account.

If there is any trade at all, I think it will be for help on the back end. This teams defense is lousy, and needs a veteran presence so you don't have to have an ovbiously disinterested Campbell on the ice for 30 minutes a game. While I like our young talent on the blueline, it takes a while for that talent to develop, it just does, and Tallon knows he doesn't have any more time for "development".

Mase that's fantasy hockey which I don't play. I do know you have to give up assets to get assets. I hear names like Eberle, skinner,okoposo, Kane, and the like upfront. I do agree no one wants to come here and no one wants to stay here which makes it basically impossible

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