Any hopes that the Florida Panthers would be out of gas following their upset of the Boston Bruins went out the window. They were far from being easy fodder for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The result? The Panthers won Game 1 by a score of 4-2 to open this second-round series.
Although this series started with a loss similar to Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, this was not the same type of game. Against the Lightning, the Maple Leafs played one of their worst games of the season. They didn’t play badly in this game.
Toronto could have easily won it. They carried the play for long stretches and had numerous scoring chances.
For only the second game of the playoffs, the Maple Leafs had a great start. They took it to the Panthers right off the opening draw and forced Florida to take back-to-back penalties.
After the Maple Leafs went down 2-0 at 7:58 of the second period, Matthews Knies scored his first NHL goal 11 seconds later. That pulled the Maple Leafs within one goal. Michael Bunting, on a nice pass from Calle Jarnkrok, went forehand-backhand to score his first goal of the playoffs. That goal tied the game late in the second period.
Overall the Maple Leafs had plenty of chances. Sergei Bobrovsky made several great saves, and the Maple Leafs just failed to finish on a lot of their chances.
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Giving up four goals is not a good way to go about winning a hockey game, especially in the playoffs. Yes, they came back from being down 4-1 to win game four in Tampa, but the odds of doing that again are very slim.
After the Maple Leafs took it to the Panthers in the first half of the first period but failed to score on their two power-play attempts, Florida scored the first time they had any real zone time. The Panthers held possession of the puck in the Maple Leafs’ zone for over 30 seconds. Finally, Matthew Tkachuk fired a shot at Ilya Samsonov from the half-wall. Samsonov stopped the shot but let the rebound go right to Nick Cousins. Cousins wired the puck into the net.
On the play, the Maple Leafs’ penchant for playing the puck and not the man came back to haunt them. Both Mark Giordano and John Tavares tried to prevent Tkachuk’s shot from getting through but failed. Then Jake McCabe, who had Cousins tied up, let him get away. He then failed in an attempt to block his rebound shot. Samsonov was down and out after making the original save and had no chance on Cousins’ shot.
On the second Florida goal, a little bad luck was involved. Knies deflected Aaron Eckblad’s shot from the point right toward Sam Bennett who also deflected it. Samsonov once again had no chance on the pinballing double deflection.
The Third Panthers’ Goal Was the Back-Breaker
The third Panther’s goal was the back-breaker. It came late in the second period after the Maple Leafs had tied the game at two. On the play, McCabe was the late trailer on a rush chance by Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, and Michael Bunting. Aleksander Barkov got his stick on the puck to knock it up out of the Florida zone to Carter Verhaeghe.
That play caught O’Reilly, Acciari, Bunting, and McCabe all deep in the Panther’s zone. TJ Brodie stepped up and got his skate on the puck deflecting it away from Verhaeghe. Unfortunately, it went right to Anthony Duclair who knocked it past Brodie back the Varhaeghe. He went in all alone on Samsonov. Verhaeghe beat Samsonov on the glove side to give the Panthers a lead of 3-2
Any chance the Maple Leafs had of coming back in the game was dashed when Brandon Montour found the back of the net on a six-on-five play with Bobrovsky pulled on a delayed tripping penalty being called on McCabe in the Panther’s zone.
Despite the Maple Leafs getting numerous chances with Samsonov pulled in the last three minutes of the game they were not able to solve Bobrovsky again.
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The Maple Leafs knew the key to winning this series was to be shutting down Tkachuk and Barkov up front and Montour on the backend. They failed miserably in doing so. Tkachuk had three assists. Barkov had two assists and Montour scored the goal that put the game away. The center on Tkachuk’s line, Sam Bennett, also had a goal and an assist.
The two defensemen tasked with stopping those three Florida players were a combined minus-five in the game. McCabe was minus-three and Brodie was minus-two. It was not all on those two defensemen, but they are going to have to be better. If they don’t, the Maple Leafs’ hope to get past the Panthers and into the conference final is slim.
All is not lost, and this series is far from over. The Maple Leafs lost Game 1 against the Lightning and came back to win four of the next five games to take that series. That included winning three games in Tampa.
Unlike the stifling defensive game that the Lightning played in the first round, Florida seems to be happy playing a more wide-open type of game. They are willing to trade chances. In the first round Florida was outscored 27 to 26 by the Bruins in their seven games. They gave up at least three goals in every game in the series.
If Florida is willing to trade scoring opportunities, that should play to the Maple Leafs’ strength. The Maple Leafs are going to get their scoring chances. Then, it is a matter of figuring out how to get the puck past Bobrovsky.
The job now for the team is to reset and come out strong in Game 2 Thursday night to gain a split at home before heading to Florida for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Wednesday nights.
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