Panthers Clinch Home-Ice Advantage in First Round of Playoffs

The Panthers beat the Maple Leafs on Monday to secure an extra home game in round one

The Florida Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Monday to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Florida will finish as one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference and could still reach as high as the second seed. The Panthers now have 99 points this year, and only trail second-seeded Pittsburgh by one point. Reaching that spot would guarantee that Florida held a home-ice advantage over every team in the East except the Washington Capitals.

The Panthers have now won three games in a row and five of their last six. Florida is finishing strong as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, despite being without Vincent Trocheck as of late. The 45 wins that Florida now has is a franchise record, and the team still has three games left on the schedule.

After a scoreless first period for both teams, Florida scored often in the second period. The Panthers posted all three of their goals in the middle period and wasted little time in doing so. It was clear that the team came out of the locker room with a plan following the first intermission.

Nick Bjugstad scored Florida's first goal of the day at the 1:34 mark of the second period. Bjugstad's 14th goal of the season had assists on it from Aaron Ekblad and Reilly Smith.

The next score came from Rocco Grimaldi at the 10:31 mark. It was only the second goal of the year for Grimaldi and it was helped by Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell. Grimaldi entered the contest with two career goals and left with four.

That fourth career goal and second of the game would come at the 13:11 mark to give Florida a 3-0 lead. Grimaldi's third of the season was assisted on by Smith who had two points himself in the game.

After Toronto cut the deficit to only one during the third period, Aleksander Barkov changed that with his 27th goal of the year. Jonathan Huberdeau and Ekblad helped Barkov make it a two-goal lead again.

Florida will travel to Montreal on Tuesday for a game with the Canadiens at 7:30 p.m.

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