By Stan Smith
The ugliest fact of this game was the Toronto Maple Leafs lost the game and are now down two games to none in their second-round series against the Panthers with the next two games in Florida.
This was the third game in a row and four out of five games they have lost at home in the playoffs.
The other ugly in the game was Matthews Knies getting head slammed by Sam Bennett in the first period and having to leave the game. There was no call on the play. It will be interesting if the NHL has a look at it to see if any supplemental discipline is warranted. The same goes for Bennett’s crosscheck to the head of Michael Bunting in the second period.
One Goal, Multiple Errors
After dominating the first half of the first period and going up 2-0 in the game, the Maple Leafs had what appeared to be a nothing dump-in by the Panthers turn into a goal. Timothy Liljegren got a lot of the blame for the goal, but I’m not so sure it was solely on him.
After Sam Reinhart dumped the puck into the corner, Liljegren took a strange path to the puck. Rather than skating directly towards it, he skated past it and then circled back. The only thing I can guess is that he expected the puck to be moving faster than it was. As a result of the path he took, it allowed Eetu Luostarinen to close quicker on him. As Liljegren attempted to ring the puck around the boards, he was hit into the boards by Luostarinen causing him to fan slightly on the puck.
John Tavares had body position on Reinhart as they both skated toward the net. Instead of keeping his body between Reinhart and the puck, Tavares decided to turn away from him to play the puck. But, he was too late getting to it. Once Tavares realized his error, he attempted to pivot back toward
Reinhart. However, he lost an edge and fell. That took him out of the play.
The third player to make an error on the play was Mark Giordano. Seeing that Liljegren was going to get to the puck first, Giordano looked behind him and saw Anton Lundell entering the zone. Instead of staying with him, Giordano stayed along the boards to give Liljegren an outlet in that direction. That left Lundell wide open as he broke for the net.
The last error was made by Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov thought Reinhart might try a wrap-around to his right. Instead, Reinhart back-passed the puck to Lundell, who was by himself with a wide-open net to knock the puck into.
The Maple Leafs Play a System the Plays the Puck
I have written many times about the Maple Leafs’ penchant for playing the puck instead of the man. I believe that’s a systems thing. In this case, Liljegren raced Luostarinen for the puck instead of just keeping his body position on him. Tavares went for the puck instead of just holding up Reinhart, and Giordano let Lundell get away from him in an attempt to also play the puck.
When the Maple Leafs are successful in targeting the puck it works great. When they fail it looks terrible. It looked terrible on this play.
The Maple Leafs were not ready to start the second period.
Off of the opening faceoff, Jake McCabe misses William Nylander on a pass up the left boards and ices the puck. After winning the draw in their own zone, MCabe is too slow in moving the puck. He gets tied up with Anthony Duclair. On his knees, McCabe swats the puck up to Nylander in the neutral zone.
Nylander tries to skate the puck into open ice moving East/West with it instead of just chipping it up the ice along the boards. He gets tangled up with Duclair and Carter Verheeghe and falls. That turns the puck over to Duclair. Duclair enters the Maple Leafs’ zone and drops the puck to Aleksander Barkov. Barkov wrists the puck from the top of the right faceoff circle, and Samsonov waves at it with his glove on the way by. That is a save Samsonov has to make.
Less Than a Minute Later, the Sky Falls In
Only 47 seconds later, Bunting has lots of time and room to make a play with the puck behind his net when the Panthers are forced to tag up on an offside. But, he is too slow getting to the puck. That allows Matthew Tkachuk to get in on him and disrupt the play.
McCabe gets his stick on it and bumps the puck to Mitch Marner. Marner has time and space to do multiple things with the puck. He could skate it out of the zone, or chip it up the boards into neutral ice. Instead, he back-passes it to Auston Matthews. Matthews attempts to chip the puck up ice through Luostarinen. The puck bounces off of Luostarinen right to Tkachuk. With the Maple Leafs in full panic mode, the Panthers pass the puck around before dishing it off to a pinching Gustav Forsling, who scores.
I have no idea where Marner went after passing the puck to Matthews. He left the zone and never returns. That leaves the Panthers with a five-on-four situation. With Forsling being the left defenseman and Marner the Maple Leafs’ right winger, Forsling is Marner’s responsibility. He was nowhere in the play once the puck gets turned over. The only thing I can figure is he was behind the Panthers skaters and was the intended recipient of the Matthews play that was knocked down by Luostarinen.
Regardless, that goal gave the Panthers the lead 3-2. Despite the Maple Leafs having numerous scoring chances in the last half of the game, Sergei Bobrovsky would not allow another goal the rest of the way giving the Panthers the win.
The Maple Leafs Best Players Made the Mistakes That Cost the Game
In the games the Maple Leafs have won in these playoffs, their best players have done the heavy lifting. In this game, those same best players made the errors that cost them the game. Matthews. Marner, Tavares, and Nylander all played key roles in each of the Panthers’ three goals. They also failed to produce enough goals to win the game.
No team is going to win many games when they only score two goals. The Maple Leafs have yet to score more than twice in each of the games in this series.
In the first round of the playoffs, Samsonov was the better goalie than Andrei Vasilevskiy. To this point in the series, Bobrovsky has been the better goalie. Through two games, Bobrovsky has a 0.945 Save Percentage and a 2.00 Goals-Against-Average. Samsonov has a 0.877 Save Percentage and a 3.65 Goals-Against-Average. If the Maple Leafs are to come back in this series, that has to change.
I know. In a game like this, it feels like there is absolutely nothing good, but there is.
The Maple Leafs came out gangbusters for the second game in a row and took the play to the Panthers. Unlike the first game where they came up empty despite the great start, they scored twice to build a 2-0 lead. Alex Kerfoot played a big role in both goals, scoring the first goal and drawing a tripping penalty which led to the second goal on the power play.
Except for the first half of the second period, the Maple Leafs dominated the play in Game 2. According to Naturalstattrick.com, in the first and third periods, they had 67% of the High-Danger Scoring Chances and 64% of the Expected Goals.
The Maple Leafs get two days to work on eliminating the mistakes and figure out a way to get the puck past Bobrovsky.
While being down 2-0 is a dire situation, it does not have to be terminal. The Maple Leafs were 3-0 on the road against the Lightning. The Panthers were 1-2 at home in their first-round series. There is no reason to think the Maple Leafs can’t go into Florida and win two games.
For now, their task is to just win one game, on Sunday night. Nothing else matters.
Hopefully, Knies was held out for precautionary reasons and will be good to go in the next game. I never thought I would be saying that someone could be a key player for the Maple Leafs coming right out of college, but Knies has been amazing. They will miss him if he can’t play.
I also worry about Samsonov. You could tell he was dealing with something during that game. Keefe said he was alright in his postgame comments, but watching Samsonov stretch out his right leg between plays is concerning.
I’m wondering if we might see a complete change for the third defensive pairing in game three. Timothy Liljegren turned the puck over three times in Thursday’s game and only played 12:35. I don’t think Giordano is 100% healthy either. He only played 13 minutes at five-on-five. According to Naturalstattrick.com, at five-on-five Giordano has been on the ice for four goals for and eleven goals against in the playoffs.
With Justin Holl sitting out the last three games and Erik Gustafsson only playing one game to this point, I wonder if Sheldon Keefe might swap out Liljegren and Giordano for a fresh Holl and Gustafsson. If Knies can’t dress, Keefe could also go with eleven forwards and seven defensemen in the game.
If the Maple Leafs want to continue to play in the postseason, this is as close to a must-win game as it gets.