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Panthers score three goals in third period, but rally comes up short vs. Maple Leafs in potential playoff preview

TORONTO — Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 61st and 62nd goals of the season to go along with an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs built a four-goal lead before hanging on late to down the Florida Panthers 6-4 in a potential first-round playoff preview Monday.

Nicholas Robertson and Matthew Knies also had a goal and an assist each for Toronto, while Tyler Bertuzzi and David Kampf provided the rest of the offense.

Ilya Samsonov made 26 saves for the Leafs, who were without five regulars — including star winger Mitch Marner (high ankle sprain) for an 11th straight game.

Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and two assists for Florida. Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Brandon Montour also scored. Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 16 shots through two periods before getting the hook. Anthony Stolarz made six saves in relief.

The Leafs, who sit third in the Atlantic Division and would have played Florida if the playoffs started Monday, had a chance to clinch a post-season berth for an eighth consecutive year, but results elsewhere didn’t go their way.

The Panthers, meanwhile, could have overtaken the Boston Bruins for first in the Atlantic with a victory.

Toronto, which fell to Florida in an emphatic five games in the second round of last spring’s post-season on the Panthers’ march to the Stanley Cup final, opened the scoring at 13:59 of the first period when Robertson scored on a breakaway following a turnover at the Leafs’ blue line.

Matthews, who became just the ninth different player in NHL history to twice hit 60 goals in a season Saturday, doubled the lead 33 seconds later when TJ Brodie circled Florida’s net and found the sniper in front for his 61st.

Florida got on the board 47 seconds into the second when Montour’s effort through a screen beat Samsonov for his seventh, but Bertuzzi took a pass from Matthews at the lip of Bobrovsky’s crease 39 seconds later to bag his 19th.

Samsonov then made a huge stop on Anton Lundell that had the Scotiabank Arena crowd on its feet.

Kampf scored his seventh for a 4-1 advantage at 8:32 after Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves won a puck battle behind Florida’s net.

Knies, who fed Robertson’s breakaway pass on Toronto’s opener, added his 13th off a Pontus Holmberg setup for a 5-1 lead through 40 minutes.

Tarasenko got one back at 2:12 of the third when he tipped 22nd — and fifth since being acquired from the Ottawa Senators ahead of last month’s trade deadline — on a nice deflection from the slot.

Reinhart made it 5-3 with 8:02 left in regulation with his 52nd as the Panthers continued to push before Bennett got Florida within one with 1:50 remaining with his ninth.

But Matthews scored his 62nd into an empty net to seal it after some nervy moments.


Panthers: Visit Montreal on Tuesday.

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