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Tavares Hits ’em With the Four

The Leafs were at home tonight taking on the Florida Panthers in an inter-divisonal contest on this Monday night.

The Panthers have had a disappointing season, struggling mightily on defense throughout.

Obviously they envy the more positive year the Leafs have had, sitting comfortably in 3rd place in the division.

1st period

It didn’t take very long for the Panthers’ porous defense to allow the potent Leafs offense to get to work. Just a few minutes into the period, the Leafs got on the board with this great passing play, finished off by Patrick Marleau:

Then, only a couple minutes after that, the Leafs added another tally to make it 2-0:

It was a great start for Toronto, which they have been desperately trying to do consistently for the whole year. That goal was the end of the night for young Panthers goalie Sam Montembeault, who has come up in an attempt to rectify some major goaltending issues that the Panthers have been facing.

Once again, the Leafs are able to victimized the Panthers, this time on a powerplay goal by John Tavares, though it may not have ever touched his stick. The puck hit off of his shin guards, into his feet, and in an attempt to take it away, Aaron Ekblad slapped the puck through Luongo’s legs into the net. 3-0 for Toronto!

Finally, the Panthers were able to claw back in this game, as a rush and whipped pass in front by Mike Hoffman finds Jayce Hawryluk for the tip that goes past Andersen to make it 3-1.

In continuation of the Maple Leafs’ stellar offensive performance, John Tavares was able to earn his second of the night to make it 4-1 on a great pass by Zach Hyman.

To cap off an exhilirating first period, the Panthers got one back just before the period ended to make it 4-2, as Andersen suffered an unfortunate screen by his own defenseman, Nikita Zaitsev.

That’s where the period ended, finally, at 4-2 for Toronto.

2nd period

To start the second period, the Maple Leafs picked up right where they left off earning a powerplay, as Justin Holl took a dangerous boarding hit by Frank Vatrano. The Leafs, unfortunately, did not score on this, their 2nd powerplay of the night.

John Tavares was able to earn himself a hat trick not long after though, in a very strong night for him, giving the Leafs a 5-2 lead, early in the second frame.

The period was a bit of a dogfight from there out, but ultimately this would be the end of the scoring in the 2nd. Leafs head into the 3rd with a solid 5-2 lead.

3rd period

Once again, the Leafs had a strong start to the period, and were making the Panthers look tired early in the final frame. Must be exhausting to be this bad defensively, I suppose.

The Leafs were yet again dominating, this time very late in a shift by the Tavares line, and it’s the center himself that has a puck land on his stick in front of an empty net, making it 6-2 on his fourth goal of the night. Tavares is the first Leaf to score 45 goals in a season since Dave Andreychuk did it 25 years ago.

This offensive show down has another goal, this time from Florida, as a rush from the Panthers leaves a puck high in the air and Huberdeau is able to slap it into the net like a baseball. 6-3 now, for Toronto. Zaitsev broke his stick afterwards in frustration, on a rough night for him.

But the Leafs couldn’t let their 4-goal lead slip away for long, as the Tavares line came back again to make it 7-3, this time finished off by Zach Hyman for his 20th goal of the season.

Then, Florida was able to come back again with Jonathan Huberdeau, for his second goal of the night. This powerplay goal made it 7-4, late in the 3rd.

Suddenly, things got a little suspicious for Toronto. Jayce Hawryluk was involved in a shoving match with Ron Hainsey after a seeminly high hit. Then, Hawryluk was able to score to make things even worse, which made it 7-5 for Toronto.

As the Panthers pulled their goalie, the Leafs were unable to get the empty net goal, but the time expired without conceding a goal either. The final score for Toronto was 7-5.

Final Thoughts

Who Wore the Crown?

After every Leaf game, we’re recognizing one Leaf player who best exemplified what it means to play hockey the “Toronto Way”: with heart and soul, above all else. Who wore the Crown is brought to you by Crown Royal, passionate fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Who else could the crown go to tonight but John Tavares. 4 goals and a +4 on the night at even strength. This incredibly swift goal-scoring frenzy earns him tonight’s Crown.

Overall Thoughts

Conceding 5 goals is obviously not a good sign, but the Leafs pretty much had this one in the bag from the get go. They were dominating play, and the pucks were finding the back of the net. The laziness on defense is certainly explainable, though not excusable for Mike Babcock, I’m sure.

Zaitsev especially had a poor night, as did the Auston Matthews line beyond the 1st period. Thankfully the Tavares line was really on their game, with 5 goals on the night just from that trio.

Tightening up the ship will be Babcock’s focus going forward, and that seems sensible, but hopefully it doesn’t come at the hindrance of the Leafs’ ability to put up exciting offensive performances like tonight.

The Leafs are in action next against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, a team just barely holding on to playoff chances. It should be an exciting contest, and will air at 7:00pm Eastern Time on Sportsnet.

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