SUNRISE, Fla. — Nick Bjugstad has carved out a spot among Florida’s top six forwards, and coach Bob Boughner expects him to stay there.
Bjugstad made a good case for himself Wednesday night.
The power forward scored the Panthers’ only goal in regulation and the game-winning goal in a shootout as Florida defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1.
Bjugstad skated and held the puck until Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen was sprawled out, moved well to his right and flipped in his goal during the fourth round of the shootout.
Barkov scored by skating to the left, pulling the puck to his right and flipping a one-handed shot past Andersen.
"Those guys put time into that. It’s not a fluke. Those four or five guys practice those moves. It’s a huge goal for us," said Boughner, who acknowledged he didn’t watch either Bjugstad or Barkov’s shots because he’s superstitious.
Florida goalie Roberto Luongo made 43 saves and Andersen had 42.
The Panthers controlled play in the first period, registering the game’s first 11 shots, but neither team broke through until Florida scored on an odd bounce at 15:16 of the second period deep in Toronto’s zone.
Behind the Toronto net and with his back to Andersen, Bjugstad backhanded a puck that deflected off Maple Leafs defenceman Connor Carrick’s skate and then Andersen’s stick.
The puck popped in for Bjugstad’s fifth goal and a 1-0 lead.
"I was just chopping at it, trying to get it in front of the net to Haapala, trying to feed him. It went off a skate or a stick and was in the back of the net," Bjugstad said.
"It was a lucky goal but we’ll take it."
Bjugstad has bounced from third-line centre to second-line right wing this season, but Boughner said he needs the 6-foot-6 Minnesota native to play in the top six and improve the rest of the season.
"I think he’s getting a little more comfortable on that right wing, and we need him to be a top-six guy and contribute offensively. He’s getting better and better," the first-year Florida coach said.
Trocheck got the primary assist on the goal, but the secondary helper went to Haapala, who was making his NHL debut after being called up in the morning from the team’s AHL affiliate in Springfield.
Kadri tied it 1-all at 13:58 of the third period after the Maple Leafs gained control of a loose puck at centre ice and sent Brown out leading a 2-on-1 break.
Brown slipped a pass from the left side to Kadri, who scored his 11th goal on a high shot over Luongo from the right circle.
"I liked our second and I liked our third (periods). I didn’t think our first was good enough. Luongo was really sharp," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said.
NOTES: The Maple Leafs scratched C Dominic Moore, LW Josh Leivo and D Roman Polak. … Toronto’s 4-1 home loss to Arizona on Monday marked the 100th game of C Auston Matthews’ career. Last season’s winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy, honouring the NHL’s top rookie, Matthews had 52 goals by the century mark; only Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov had more (57) in that span. … Maple Leafs RW Mitchell Marner played in his 100th game. … The 23-year-old Haapala skated on the second line at left wing with Trocheck and Bjugstad. … Bjugstad’s goal was his 68th with the Panthers, breaking a tie with Bill Lindsay for 14th in franchise history. … Trocheck, Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are all averaging at least a point a game through 21 contests.
Maple Leafs: Friday night at Carolina.
Panthers: Saturday night at home against Chicago.