Kessel scores 2 as Leafs trounce Panthers

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Things got feisty with 1:10 to go in the second period in a 4-0 Toronto Maple Leafs win over the reeling Florida Panthers on Thursday night at the BB&T Center.
Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic threw an initial punch at Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, receiving a double minor roughing penalty. Kadri and Florida defenseman Filip Kuba also got booked.
Toronto defenseman Mark Fraser went to the box for roughing and also received a game misconduct after backing up his teammate. Even goaltender James Reimer skated to center ice.
In the end, Toronto forward Phil Kessel scored two goals as the Maple Leafs cruised in the last-placed Panthers' home finale.
"I think that's the big difference with this Maple Leaf group this year is everyone's on the same page and no one wants to disappoint each other," Kadri said.
The Panthers (14-27-6), last in the NHL standings, have lost eight of their last 11 games. They finished with an 8-11-5 home record.
The Maple Leafs (26-16-5), meanwhile, clinched a playoff berth five days ago for the first time since the 2003-04 season and currently sit in the fifth seed. They rebounded from a 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
Last year, Florida swept the series 4-0. Toronto returned the favor with a 3-0 mark in 2013.
Forward Leo Komarov's fourth goal of the season gave the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead 5:39 into the first.
The Maple Leafs doubled the advantage with 5:28 remaining in the period on forward Clarke MacArthur's eighth goal of the season.
MacArthur juked a Panthers' defenseman as he approached the blue line and sent the puck to forward Matt Frattin on the left side. The rebound from his shot went straight to MacArthur, who poked it in for the goal.
"We're about trying to get some people going -- specifically Clarke McArthur -- that's hopefully a sign of things to come," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "He was engaged in the hockey game. Those are all positives."
Following a long bounce off the boards on a Florida shot, the Maple Leafs transitioned to a 2-on-1 fastbreak just 1:41 into the second to make the lead 3-0.
Kadri found Kessel, who beat Jacob Markstrom on the glove side for his 18th of the season.
Three minutes later Kessel scored again, making it 4-0. He has now tallied eight points in the past four games. Kessel leads the team with 12 goals and 18 points in 26 career games against Florida.
His initial pass in front of the blue line redirected off a skate and stayed in the zone. Forward Joffrey Lupul centered it from behind the net to Kadri, whose shot rebounded to Kessel for a goal on Markstrom's stick side.
Florida's best scoring opportunity came with 2:50 left in the second on the power play, but neither Nick Bjugstad or Peter Mueller could stuff home rebounds in front of Reimer.
"I think we fed into their game and our turnovers in the first period fed that game for them," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "You have to understand why your opponent has had success. They're an aggressive physical team that also has speed."
The Panthers outshot the Maple Leafs 34-17, including 16-1 in the third, but Reimer stopped each to collect his fourth shutout of the season.
"We didn't feel we played our best last night so coming here and making a statement for ourselves," Reimer said. "Get back to the standard we need to be at and get back on track."
NOTES: Maple Leafs' center Jay McClement played in his 600th NHL game. ... Panthers' defenseman Tyson Strachan, who missed four games with an upper-body injury, returned to the lineup. ... Right winger Jack Skille sits one point shy of 50 for his NHL career. ... University of Miami men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga dropped the first puck. His team reached the Sweet 16 this season. ... Up next, the Maple Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night before beginning postseason play for the first time since the 2003-04 season. The Panthers close out the season in Tampa against the Lightning on Saturday.

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