St. Louis Blues Patrik Berglund looks to pass the puck. File photo by BIll Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Third place is important to the St. Louis Blues.
That was made clear Thursday night as Patrik Berglund scored the go-ahead goal with 9:23 remaining in the third period to lead St. Louis to a 6-3 win over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.
With two games remaining in the regular season, the win left the Blues needing one point to clinch third.
By securing third place, the Blues would open the playoffs against the Minnesota Wild, meaning shorter travel for St. Louis. Conversely, if the Blues were to get a wild-card berth, they could face a team such as the Anaheim Ducks, meaning more travel and a more highly rated opponent.
"The less travel and not having to go to Anaheim, it would be huge," Blues winger David Perron said. "We're looking at other scores, but we're also expecting ourselves to take care of (third place) with our games. Tonight was a big step."
St. Louis, which is 20-8-2 since coach Mike Yeo took over the team on Feb. 1, replacing the fired Ken Hitchcock, is already assured a spot somewhere in the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
But playoff positioning is important, and the Blues (44-29-7) showed that as they lost three one-goal leads but scored four times in the third period to finally subdue the Panthers (33-36-11).
"We did a great job responding," Yeo said. "We had to respond many times throughout the course of the game. It was not just the fact that we scored but the way we scored."
The winning goal -- the 23rd of the season for Berglund -- came on a power play. After Keith Yandle was penalized for slashing Ryan Reaves, the Blues took advantage. Jordan Schmaltz's shot from the high slot was deflected by Berglund while Dmitrij Jaskin provided a screen on Panthers goalie James Reimer.
St. Louis added another power-play goal three minutes later as Alex Pietrangelo redirected a pass from Jaden Schwartz, who had three points on the night, including the final goal with 59 seconds left.
Blues goalie Jake Allen earned the win with 29 saves.
Reimer, who had missed three straight games due to a head injury, took the loss for Florida, which was eliminated from playoff contention last week. The Panthers have lost six games in a row as well as 17 of their past 22.
Reaves' goal, his sixth of the season, opened the scoring with 12:16 expired in the first period.
Panthers rookie defenseman Ian McCoshen, who made his NHL debut, coughed up the puck in the neutral zone. Former Panthers right winger Scottie Upshall got the puck to Reaves, who was in alone, beating Reimer high to the glove side.
McCoshen made up for his mistake by earning his first NHL point, getting a secondary assist on Vincent Trocheck's goal that tied the score 1-1 with 6:41 gone in the second period.
Jaromir Jagr got the primary assist, springing Trocheck on an odd-man rush. Trocheck could've passed to Jonathan Huberdeau on the right wing but fired instead, beating Allen with a wrist shot.
"You don't anticipate getting a point in your first game," McCoshen said. "It was fun."
St. Louis took a 2-1 lead 56 seconds later. Vladimir Tarasenko's shot from the high slot beat Reimer to the blocker side, hit the crossbar and rebounded into the net off the goalie's back.
Florida tied the score 55 seconds into the third period on a wrap-around goal by rookie defenseman Michael Matheson.
St. Louis surged ahead on a goal by Perron with 14:24 expired in the third. Florida, though, rallied again, tying the score 3-3 on a one-timer by Dennis Malgin from the high slot.
The Blues took over from there, and it was yet another loss for Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe, who will not return behind the bench next season, according to multiple published reports.
Rowe, who is 22-27-10 since taking over for the fired Gerard Gallant (11-9-1), said he was proud of the effort by his Panthers on Thursday.
"Our guys never give up," Rowe said.
NOTES: The Blues were without C Paul Stastny (broken foot) and D Robert Bortuzzo (upper body). ... Blues D Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) returned from the injured list. ... The Panthers were without three injured stars: G Roberto Luongo (lower body), D Aaron Ekblad (concussion) and C Aleksander Barkov (upper body). ... Panthers RW Jaromir Jagr, 45, said he wants to return next season but there's no agreement yet with the team. ... The Panthers scratched LW Jussi Jokinen, D Jakub Kindl and D MacKenzie Weegar. ... St. Louis scratched LW Zach Sanford, RW Nail Yakupov and D Petteri Lindbohm. ... Florida plays its 2016-2017 home finale Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres. ... St. Louis plays its last road game of the regular season Saturday at the Carolina Hurricanes.