The Panthers beat Red Wings 5-2 and have the best record in the East

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers are champions of the NHL’s Atlantic Division. They look like a team poised to win even more.

Aleksander Barkov scored his 38th goal of the season and the Panthers equaled a franchise record with their 12th straight win as they defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-2 on Thursday night.

That, combined with Tampa Bay’s 8-1 win over Toronto later Thursday, gave the Panthers the Atlantic title and home field advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It is the third time Florida has won a division title in its 28-year history.

“That means a lot. We put a lot of hard work into the season and finishing the division is a big accomplishment for us,” said Florida’s MacKenzie Weegar. “But obviously this is about the big picture and we’re going to enjoy it “To secure the division and give us home field advantage here for the playoffs. But other than that, we’re trying to develop our game and have fun doing it.”


Mason Marchment had a goal and an assist, and Sam Reinhart, Noel Acciari and Weegar also had goals for the Panthers, who top the Eastern Conference and are two points ahead of leader Colorado in the race for the best record in the NHL were in the west. Florida (118 points) and the Avalanche have five games left.

“We take care of business,” Acciari said.

The Panthers continued the 12-game winning streak they enjoyed from December 15, 2015 to January 10, 2016. Florida has beaten their opponents 61-31 in that span and 27-9 in the last six games.

“We just go from game to game and I’m happy that we’re getting the wins here,” said Weegar. “We are a great team and of course that shows throughout the year.”

Jonathan Huberdeau had two assists and went into a tie with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid to take the championship lead with 113 points.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots for the Panthers.

Tyler Bertuzzi and Sam Gagner scored for Detroit, and Alex Nedeljkovic had 22 saves.


“They have so many points for a reason,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said of the Panthers. “Overall, we were able to win the hockey game. We just have to find a way. One or two fewer mistakes and make sure to take our chances.”

The Red Wings finished within 3-2 when Bertuzzi’s shot from the right circle passed Bobrovsky at 13:45 in the second half, but the Panthers went 4-2 after Weegar slotted the puck about 10 minutes later had stuck.

Reinhart scored a power play goal early in the third to extend the Panthers’ lead to 5-2.

“I thought we got a little physical in the second round and we seemed to be picking up a little momentum and sort of taking over the hockey game,” Florida interim head coach Andrew Brunette said. “Our focus was on nothing but doing the right things and that will start again on Saturday and that was kind of a tribute to the lads. I think we managed to do that all season.”


The Panthers scored three goals on seven shots in the first half.

After Gagner’s wrist shot went under Bobrovsky’s glove to put the Red Wings 1-0 up at 4:08, Acciari equalized with a shot from the low position at 9:19 to make it 1-1.

Barkov’s power-play goal came with a bang from high position with 1:07 left to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. Then Marchment’s shot was deflected off a defender and into the net with 21 seconds left to make it 3-1.

“They can seem to cause offense out of nowhere,” Gagner said. “You feel like you play well against them, they create weird breaks and their defense finds the guys open. They finally found a way to break through.”


Florida have conceded their first goal in a game for the 35th time this season. The Panthers have by far the best record in the NHL in games where they’re down 1-0. Florida improved to 23-8-4 in this situation; St. Louis is second with 19-12-5 and competes on Thursday.


NOTES: Florida and St. Louis are the only NHL teams not excluded this season. … Joe Thornton’s first-half assist on Acciari’s goal made it his fourth game by a point in his last five appearances. Thornton had not played since April 3. … Detroit will miss the playoffs for a sixth straight season, the longest such streak since missing seven straight postseasons from 1971-77. … Detroit’s home final is Saturday.


Red Wings: host Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Panthers: host Toronto on Saturday.


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Joel McCord

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