TORONTO - John Tavares recorded the first four-goal game of his career as the Toronto Maple Leafs downed the Florida Panthers 7-5 on Monday night.

The star centre, who signed a seven-year, US$77-million contract with the Leafs in free agency on July 1, now has 45 goals on the season -- the most ever 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 New York Islanders in 2009, jumped into second in the NHL in goals in 2018-19, three back of Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin.

Zach Hyman, with a goal and two assists, Patrick Marleau and Jake Muzzin provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (45-25-6). Mitch Marner had three assists, while Morgan Rielly and William Nylander added two each in front of a crowd of 19,125 at Scotiabank Arena.

Frederik Andersen made 31 saves for the Leafs, who started the night seven points back of the Boston Bruins for second in the Atlantic Division and are almost assured of meeting their rivals for a second straight spring in the first round of the playoffs.

Jayce Hawryluk scored twice and added an assist for Florida (33-31-12), while Jonathan Huberdeau, with two, and Mike Matheson also scored. Evgenii Dadanov and Mike Hoffman each had two assists.