TORONTO — John Tavares had the first four-goal game of his career and the Maple Leafs beat the Panthers 7-5 on Monday night.
Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Leafs in free agency on July 1, has 45 goals this season, the most by a player in his first season with the franchise.
Tavares, who also has nine three-goal games since being drafted first overall by the Islanders in 2009, moved into second place in goals this season, three behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
Zach Hyman had a goal and two assists, and Patrick Marleau and Jake Muzzin also scored for Toronto. Mitch Marner had three assists, while Morgan Rielly and William Nylander each finished with two assists.
Frederik Andersen made 31 saves for the Leafs.
Jayce Hawryluk scored twice and added an assist for Florida. Jonathan Huberdeau added two goals and Mike Matheson also scored. Evgenii Dadanov and Mike Hoffman each had two assists.
Rookie netminder Sam Montembeault allowed two goals on four shots before getting pulled just over four minutes into game. Roberto Luongo, who was scheduled to get the night off with the Panthers set to face the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, made 28 saves in relief.
Toronto entered play 2-4-1 over its last seven games, including Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss at home to the New York Rangers. The Maple Leafs had played better during a recent 1-1-1 stretch after surrendering 23 goals in four prior outings over a six-day span from March 11-16.
The Leafs scored early when Marleau took a feed from Nazem Kadri and beat Montembeault on the short side for his 16th goal of the season, and second in his last 13 outings.
Muzzin made it 2-0 with his ninth at 4:21, blasting a shot past Montembeault, who was promptly replaced by Luongo.
Tavares scored his first on the power play at 11:05, beating Luongo with a shot between the pads from close range.
Hawryluk got Florida on the board at 13:23, tipping his sixth past Andersen off the rush to make it 3-1. But Tavares added his second just 1:19 later when he tapped a pass from Hyman past Luongo.
Tavares made it 5-2 on a rebound off the rush at 5:51 of the second to complete his hat trick. Hats rained down to salute the 28-year-old’s second three-goal game of the season.