Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Maple Leafs come back to beat the Panthers in a dramatic six-round shootout
By Joseph Zita2 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs returned home to Toronto to begin a three-game homestand last night, and their first matchup was against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season, the Florida Panthers. Coming off two consecutive losses to non-playoff teams, Toronto needed to come out of the gates flying and hungry to get back in the win column against a divisional rival.
Toronto needed to come out of the gates flying after how they got embarrassed by this team in the 2023 playoffs and that they dropped two straight games to non-playoff teams over the weekend, but that was not the case.
Florida, despite playing the night prior and supposed to be at a disadvantage, absolutely skated circles around the Maple Leafs through the first period. The Panthers not only looked like the more engaged team from the start of the period to the final horn, but they out-scored Toronto, out-shot them, out-chanced them, and won the hit battle 14-7. It was an embarrassing period for a team that hadn’t played since Saturday, and to make matters worse, Mitch Marner and Mark Giordano went to the dressing room during this period.
The new-look top six did not look good at all either, and according to Luke Fox, the first line with William Nylander on it looked abysmal, with a CF% of zero.
Toronto entered the first intermission down 1-0, with the uncertainty surrounding Mitch Marner and Mark Giordano’s status for the remainder of the game.
At the start of the second period, Maple Leaf fans got good and bad news. The good news was Mitch Marner returned to the game with a full cage on after taking the puck to the jaw. The bad news was the Maple Leafs PR account announced that Mark Giordano wasn’t returning to the game due to an upper-body injury.
So, after a period where Toronto got dominated, and they were down 1-0, they are now down to five defensemen for the remainder of the 40 minutes against a hard-forechecking Panthers team. However, unlike the first period, Toronto put together a better period despite playing on their heels to begin the frame.
Max Domi was whistled for two minor penalties (cross-checking and roughing) just 1:56 into the second period, and the Maple Leafs’ penalty kill had to be put to the test early as they were trying to limit the Panthers to a possible second goal. The penalty kill did its job and killed off both penalties, and that gave the Maple Leafs a little jump in their step as they started to create more dangerous scoring chances.
Nylander, who drew two penalties this period, had an eventful shift midway through the period as he rang iron twice on consecutive shots but couldn’t beat Stolarz to even the game at one. Luckily, Toronto kept its foot on the gas and started to generate even more chances.
Although they went 0-for-2 on the power play in the second period, Noah Gregor woke up Scotiabank Arena with a burst of speed past the Panthers defenseman, and he tied the game at one with roughly seven minutes left to go.
It was a much more engaging period for the home team. They generated more chances, registered 13 shots, tied the game at one, and even got involved in the physicality aspect of the game, including a tilt between Max Domi and Sam Bennett. Both teams headed into the second intermission tied at one.
After what was a dreadful first period from Toronto, they came alive in the second period and mounted their push, as expected. But with the game tied at one heading into the third period, down a defenseman, against a stingy Panthers team, they needed a solid third-period effort to try and come away with an important win, as they are chasing the Panthers in the standings.
Well, they outplayed the Panthers in the third period as they were trying to find the go-ahead goal. However, Anthony Stolarz did his best Sergei Bobrovsky impression and stopped everything Toronto threw at him. And the same can be said about Joseph Woll. The 25-year-old had another stellar showing last night, as last night’s game was a goalie battle.
Despite the third-period push from Toronto, which included a couple of power plays for them, they couldn’t find the game-winning goal in regulation, and neither could the Panthers. We were headed to some extra hockey for the ninth time this season, and although grabbing a point is crucial for the standings, Toronto needed the extra one badly.
The overtime period began with the Florida Panthers on an abbreviated power play that carried over from the end of the third period. Fortunately, the Maple Leafs’ penalty kill did another great job at killing it off, which made them three-for-three on the night and 16-for-16 in their last five games after starting the season very poorly.
It wasn’t a clean and pretty overtime for Toronto. There was a handful of bad turnovers from TJ Brodie, John Tavares and Conor Timmins in their zone and neutral zone, which led to a couple of chances for the Panthers, but Woll had the answers for them all. Florida would out-shoot Toronto 4-1 in the overtime period, but both teams couldn’t find the back of the net, and we were headed to the dull shootout.
The shootout is not a fun way to end a game but last night’s shootout was one you should’ve watched because it was dramatic. There were six rounds and only three goal scorers. Nylander, Matthews, and Marner were the first three for Toronto, and Matthews was the only one who scored. Marner had a shot to win it, but he fell over, and Sam Reinhart scored to extend the shootout.
We were off to round four, but Domi and Tkachuk were denied. Robertson was picked to shoot in round five, but his low shot was stopped. Rodrigues hopped over the boards for the Panthers with a chance to walk it off and leave with two points, and he did. Well, he did at first, but then he didn’t. Do you understand what I’m saying? If not, don’t worry. It was a crazy ending to the shootout and was something I’d never seen before.
Rodrigues did score, but it was an illegal shot. He made his move on Woll, and when he went to tuck it past him, he was stopped on the initial shot and banged home the rebound in one quick motion. It was a bang-bang play, and I don’t fault anybody who didn’t see it in real time. However, they overturned the goal upon review, and Toronto had another chance to win this hockey game.
Everybody thought the game had ended, and they had to be brought back on the ice to continue the shootout. Keefe elected to go with his only goal-scorer in regulation, and in the sixth round, Noah Gregor sniped one past Stolarz to give Toronto the lead. Nick Cousins had to score to extend the shootout, but he rang one off the post, and the Toronto Maple Leafs walked away victorious in a strange shootout win.
Who stood out:
From the second period and on, they got better and better. For starters, Joseph Woll was excellent again. I already mentioned how good he was last night, but he picked up his seventh win of the season, stopping 38 of 39 shots, to help improve his team’s record to 11-6-3. If it wasn’t for him in the first period, the score could’ve easily been 3-0 Florida.
Morgan Rielly continues to have a very underrated season, and I don’t think enough people are talking about it. He has always been known as a defenseman who can skate, help your power play, and rack up points. However, he has elevated his play away from the puck this season, and it’s been a treat to watch. Last night alone, he made two excellent reads in the defensive zone to break up a play. Here is one of them.
I don’t think it was the big boys’ best game last night, but they got better as the game aged. They had their chances but couldn’t find the scorehseet yet again. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews also laid two big hits on the Niko Mikkola, which got the crowd on their feet and the fans on X happy.
I can’t forget the man who scored Toronto’s only goal in regulation and the game-winner in the shootout. Noah Gregor, who entered training camp on a PTO, has been a solid addition to this lineup. He isn’t the flashiest of players and won’t average a ton of minutes a night, but what he does bring is speed, physicality, and a pretty darn underrated shot, and we’ve seen it a couple of times so far this season.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game Thursday night on TSN4 against the Seattle Kraken as they continue their homestand. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.
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