SUNRISE, Fla. â€” The Florida Panthers desperately needed a win and they got it.
Jonathan Marchessault scored two goals, Thomas Vanek had a career-high four assists and the Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-2 on Tuesday night to stop a five-game slide.
Aleksander Barkov had a goal and an assist for Florida, which won for only the second time in 10 games. Keith Yandle, Jussi Jokinen, Reilly Smith and Colton Sceviour also scored.
The Panthers have 71 points, six behind the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we should be a playoff team,” Marchessault said. “I think it’s just time that we show it. Obviously it’s getting late, but we needed that one win.”
James Reimer stopped 28 shots to win for the first time in eight starts.
Vanek experienced his first victory with the Panthers since he was acquired March 1 in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings, a span of six games.
“In the short time I’ve been here, the wins haven’t been there, but I thought for the most part of every game except maybe the Rangers (a 5-2 loss), I thought we probably deserved more,” Vanek said. “Tonight, we came out hard. I think it was a great game.”
Nikita Soshnikov and Leo Komarov scored for Toronto, which dropped a point behind the Islanders and Lightning for the last playoff spot in the East. Frederik Andersen allowed three goals on eight shots before being replaced by Curtis McElhinney to start the second period. McElhinney made 20 saves.
The Maple Leafs had won three straight.
“We were in a game that you think you should be good, you think you should be rested, you think you should be jumping and skate good,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We didn’t do anything right. When you’re not prepared and you don’t compete at a high enough level, you get fed your lunch.”
Marchessault’s second goal put the Panthers ahead 4-1 at 4:38 of the second period after he redirected a pass from Barkov past McElhinney. Marchessault has 22 goals this season, tying Vincent Trocheck for the team lead.
Smith made it 5-1 when he banged in his own rebound with 3:38 left in the second, and the rout was on.
“They’re a great hockey team. They’ve had a great year and our guys knew we had to come out here and play the right way to have a chance,” Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe said.
The Maple Leafs closed the gap to 5-2 when Soshnikov swept a loose puck past Reimer through traffic in the crease with 1:41 left in the second. The Panthers answered with a power-play goal by Jokinen with 27 seconds left in the period to make it 6-2.
Yandle’s goal from the left circle at 2:17 of the third stretched the lead to 7-2.
“Give credit to them. They needed a win and they came out hard and gave it to us pretty good,” said Toronto
Komarov cut Toronto’s deficit to 2-1 on a power-play goal with 6:24 left in the first.
The Panthers went ahead 3-1 with 5:39 to go when Marchessault fired a shot from near the blue line that beat Andersen.
Barkov gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead 18 seconds in, the fastest goal to start a game by Florida this season. Jonathan Huberdeau passed from behind the goal line to Barkov in the crease, and he redirected the puck into the net.
Sceviour increased the lead to 2-0 on his short-handed goal. Sceviour skated in on a breakaway and beat Andersen to the stick side at 10:33. Sceviour has three short-handed goals this season, becoming the first Panthers player to do that since Radek Dvorak in 2009-10.
NOTES: Panthers D Aaron Ekblad will miss at least the next week after sustaining a concussion during Saturday’s loss to Tampa Bay. … C Denis Malgin will be out seven to 10 days with a concussion. … The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs 10 times in the past 11 years, including the past three seasons in a row.
Maple Leafs: Visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
Panthers: Visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday.
Paul Gereffi, The Associated Press