SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Maple Leafs believe they are breaking out of their slump just in time for the playoffs.
Phil Kessel scored two goals to lead the Maple Leafs over the Florida Panthers 4-0 on Thursday.
Clarke MacArthur and Leo Komarov also scored for the Maple Leafs. James Reimer stopped 34 shots for his fourth shutout of the season. Nazem Kadri had a pair of assists.
Toronto snapped out of a 1-3-0 slump coming into the game, scoring four goals on just 17 shots. They were 7-1-1 in the previous nine games before the slump.
“We didn’t feel we played our best last night (5-2 loss at Tampa Bay), so we wanted to come in here and make a statement for ourselves,” Reimer said. “That’s what we wanted to do today, we wanted to get right back on track and we were able to do that.”
Jacob Markstrom made 13 saves for Florida, which played its final home game of the season. The Panthers clinched the worst record in the NHL for the first time in franchise history and was shutout for the seventh time this season.
“That stinks, when you’re at the bottom of the pile,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “But that is the brutal reality of our situation and it’s something we have to sit on for four months. … I think it’s going to be a long summer.”
The Maple Leafs can’t finish lower than sixth in the Eastern Conference.
The Maple Leafs took a 3-0 lead on Kessel’s first goal of the game. Kadri brought the puck down from his own end on a 2-on-1 break. He slipped the puck over to Kessel on the right side and he wristed the puck past Markstrom at 1:41 of the second.
Kessel scored his second goal three minutes later when he grabbed a loose puck in front of the crease and poked it in at 4:41 to make it 4-0. Kessel has nine goals in his past 10 games and 19 for the season. Kadri assisted on both of Kessel’s goals.
“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 types of guys. He really opens the ice out there for you.”
The Maple Leafs took a 1-0 lead on Komarov’s goal in the first period. Jay McClement brought the puck out from behind the net and swept a pass across to Komarov in the right circle. His wrist shot got past Markstrom at 5:39.
Toronto stretched its lead to 2-0 when MacArthur scored. MacArthur brought the puck down from his own zone end and passed to Matt Frattin in the right circle. Frattin’s shot was blocked, but MacArthur poked in the rebound at 14:32.
“Anytime you can win on the road, it’s a positive,” Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “It’s two more points for our hockey club.”
The Panthers finished 8-11-5 at home this season.
“I always reach out to the fans, I’ve got five at home that follow us hard and have their favorites on the team and understand the ups and downs,” Dineen said. “We have not given our fan base enough of a spark.”
Toronto returns home to play its season finale against Montreal after the two-game road trip to Florida.
“Can’t wait. We’ve been away from the city for almost too long,” Kadri said. 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.”
NOTES: Toronto C McClement played in his 600th NHL game. … Florida D Tyler Strachan returned after missing four games. … C Quinton Howden returned after missing Tuesday’s game due to illness.