With both the Panthers and Maple Leafs headed for an early vacation next week, Thursday's matchup was virtually meaningless, other than draft position.

Tell that to rookie center Brandon Pirri, a Toronto native, who continued to pass his auditions for a future role on the Panthers when he commemorated his 23rd birthday with a rare first-period goal.

Or to fellow rookie center Nick Bjugstad, whose assist and two third-period goals secured a 4-2 victory over the fallen Leafs at the BB&T Center.

The Panthers move to 2-2 on this season-closing, five-game homestand that concludes with the Blue Jackets — who have already clinched a playoff berth — on Saturday night.

"I've been in a little bit of a slump but [linemates Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim] have been positive with me. That changes my demeanor and helps me a lot,'' said Bjugstad, who snapped a 20-game goal drought. "We started off well which is a different technique for us, so it was good to get the lead.''

The Leafs continued their late-season collapse with their 11th loss in their last 13 games as the Panthers take the season series 3-1. A couple of disgruntled Leafs fans were sporting paper bags over their heads.

Regardless of the loss, ask Leafs 30-year-old goalie Drew MacIntyre if his first NHL start in his 11th pro season held any significance.

One of the major causes for the Panthers dismal record has been their slow starts in the first period. Their 1-0 lead after one was their first in 18 games, dating back to a 2-0 victory over the lowly Sabres on March 7.

Pirri ended that streak while continuing his own when he took a sweet feed from fellow rookie forward Quinton Howden and wristed it past MacIntyre at 6:06.

"It was a pretty cool feeling, all the people back home and family went to a local bar there watching together,'' said Pirri, who has four goals and two assists in his last six games. "It was good for the team to get a good start, we played really well in the first. We didn't let off the pedal the whole time.''

Pirri has 13 goals and 24 points, but seven goals with six assists in 20 games with Florida since coming over from Chicago on March 2 for two draft picks.