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Panthers win home opener, hold off Maple Leafs in playoff rematch

Maple Leafs Maple Leafs bench - The Canadian Press

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Kevin Stenlund got his first goal as a member of the Florida Panthers, then ended the night with a bit of blood coming from a little cut on the left side of his face.

Perfectly summed up the night for the Panthers, who got a scratch-and-claw win in their home opener.

Stenlund and Oliver Ekman-Larsson got their first Florida goals, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 29 shots and the Panthers helped their goalie by blocking a barrage of shots in the final minutes on the way to topping the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 in a playoff rematch Thursday night.

“Everybody was putting their bodies on the line,” Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk said. “That's very important. We saw what it was like last year. We got in (the playoffs) by one point and these points matter.”

Stenlund scored with 2:52 left in the first, Ekman-Larsson made it 2-0 with seven seconds left in the opening period and that was enough for Bobrovsky. Sam Reinhart added a short-handed empty-net goal as time expired.

Mitch Marner scored his first goal of the season, coming on the power play, midway through the second period for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 21 saves for the Maple Leafs, who opened a season-long five-game road trip.

“The result was not great today,” Samsonov said.

Samsonov went to the bench with 2:10 left for an extra attacker, and Florida captain Aleksander Barkov was called for a penalty with 1:09 remaining — giving Toronto a 6-on-4. But nothing got to Bobrovsky the rest of the way, and Florida held on.

“There were a few blocks in a row, big blocks, important blocks,” Bobrovsky said.

Including playoffs, Florida improved to 6-1-1 in its last eight games against the Maple Leafs. Toronto had scored exactly two goals in each of the first seven meetings in that span.

Given that it was the home opener, there were the expected nostalgic reminders for the Panthers, to commemorate last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. The new Eastern Conference championship banner was displayed to fans for the first time and spotlighted in the pregame ceremony, along with a highlight video from last spring.

“It’s definitely a little bit of a sign of the success that you had last year and it’s definitely no little feat; that was big-time for us to get that and keep moving the needle with this organization and keep having success,” Tkachuk said. “We know what the last piece of the puzzle is after last year, to finish the job.”

There was another reminder of last spring’s playoff run — “We want Florida” chants from the Panthers fans, a nod to how Toronto fans chanted the same before Florida ousted Boston in a Round 1 stunning upset of the team that had just posted the best regular season in NHL history. The Panthers then beat Toronto in five games in Round 2.

The Panthers — who drew a sellout crowd of 19,288 — entered the night as one of four teams yet to play their home opener this season. Colorado was also making its home debut for the season Thursday, while Chicago and Arizona don’t open their home slates until Saturday.

NOTES: It was Bobrovsky's 107th win as a Panther, breaking a tie with John Vanbiesbrouck for second-most in franchise history. Roberto Luongo has the club record with 230. ... A pregame moment of silence was held for those impacted and killed following Hamas militants attacking Israel earlier this month, with the Maple Leafs and Panthers jointly mourning the loss of life. ... Barkov and Reinhart assisted on Ekman-Larsson's goal for Florida. Stenlund's was unassisted. ... John Tavares got his sixth assist of the year on Marner's goal, and William Nylander got his fourth.


Maple Leafs: Visit Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Panthers: Host Vancouver on Saturday.