In reality, regular season results have little to do with playoff success. But, when two potential playoff opponents meet late in the regular season they usually want to make a statement. 

Related: Ilya Samsonov Was Brilliant in the Net for the Maple Leafs

The Good

For two periods, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the statement they wanted to make. They wanted to show that, despite their loss to the Panthers in round two of the 2023 playoffs last season, they were not intimidated by Florida. The team proved it could match the Panthers’ speed and physicality despite missing some key players. They also showed they could penetrate their defence, get into the dangerous areas of the ice, and score from those areas. 

Toronto got goals from five different players in building a 5-1 lead in the first two periods. 

Nick Robertson

Nick Robertson opened the scoring by demonstrating his speed and prowess around the net when he broke in alone on Sergei Bobrovsky, and “faked him out of his jockstrap” as we used to say. Robertson also made a nice play later in the game to break up a play inside the Florida blue line and set things in motion on a Matthews Knies goal.

While Robertson has shown the inconsistencies of a rookie player, which he is, he has showcased his offensive abilities at times. Robertson has 12 goals and 12 assists in 50 games this season, which is a 20-goal, 40-point pace for 82 games. More importantly, he has shown he can stay healthy. 

Unfortunately for Robertson, he is probably still on the outside looking in when the postseason begins. 

Matthews Knies

Matthews Knies has shown in the past few games he can be a productive player in the NHL playing away from Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. He was the best player on a line with Robertson and Pontus Holmberg in this game. He made a great defensive play and hit Robertson with a perfect pass to send Robertson away on a breakaway for the first goal. 

Matthew Knies, Maple Leafs

Later in the game, Knies drove for the net and scored a nice goal himself. He also came to the defence of Holmberg and went after 6-foot-5 Niko Mikkola after Mikkola rocked Holmberg with a questionable hit late in the first period.   

The 21-year-old Knies has not looked out of place in his first year in the league. 

Penalty Kill

The Maple Leafs penalty kill went 4 for 4 in the game. Toronto has gone 14 for 14 in their last four games when they have been down a player.  

Auston Matthews

After taking three games to notch his 60th goal of the season, it didn’t take Auston Matthews long to get number 61 and 62. Plus, who says empty net goals are easy and not important? This game had all the markings of becoming a nasty one with a big blown lead for the Maple Leafs. That was until Matthews sealed the deal with a 150-foot shot into the empty net. 

Matthews added an assist giving him three points in the game and 98 points on the season. He appears set to have the second 100-point season of his career.  

The Bad

The Maple Leafs’ third period would have been downright ugly. However, Matthews’ empty net goal put this game out of reach. Instead, it gets promoted to bad. The Maple Leafs made the statement they wanted to make in the first two periods. Then, the Panthers came out and made a statement of their own in the third period. They were all over the Maple Leafs in the period. They scored three goals to close to within a goal with 1:50 still to play. The Maple Leafs were back on their heels in pure panic mode for the majority of the period

The Ugly

Once again the power play was ugly in this game going 0 for 3. After having the best power play in the league in February, going 14 for 28, the Maple Leafs were a miserable 4 for 44 in March. For most of that month, and this game they were without Mitch Marner. While they have not seemed to have missed Marner on the penalty kill, they have missed him on the power play. Morgan Rielly has also been missed. 

It would be great to get through a game and not see one ugly call, or non-call by the referees. On the play where Holmberg got flattened by Mokkola and Knies jumped Mikkola, the hit Mikkola delivered on Holmberg would have been a good solid clean hit if Holmberg had had the puck. But he didn’t. It was clearly interference by Mikkola. But there was no call on the play and, when Knies stepped in, he was rewarded for his actions with a roughing penalty while Mikkola got nothing. 

What’s Next?

The Maple Leafs can all but wrap up third place in the Atlantic Division when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night. While Toronto was beating Florida, the Lightning were losing 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings giving the Maple Leafs a six-point lead over Tampa. With a win over the Lightning, that lead would be extended to eight points. There are just seven games left in the regular season. 

Marner is eligible to come off of LTIR on Tuesday. If he’s deemed healthy enough, he could play in that game. I could see the Maple Leafs holding Marner out and giving him an extra three days before dressing him for the visit to Montreal on Saturday night. I could also see Toronto not only giving the players who are presently not playing due to injury more time off. However, they might start sitting other players with various bumps and bruises as well. The most important thing is having as many players as possible healthy and ready to go for the playoffs. 

Related: The Good, Bad & Ugly in Maple Leafs 3-0 Shutout in Buffalo

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