Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Maple Leafs will face the Panthers in the second round, but don’t pop the champagne yet
By Jon Steitzer9 months ago
In what can only be described as the best possible outcome for the Leafs, the Florida Panthers managed to knock off the Boston Bruins in overtime of Game Seven and sent Bergeron, Marchand, and Co. on an early summer vacation.
As much as you want to believe the Leafs would prove themselves against any competition and this is by no means advocating that the Leafs can take the Panthers lightly, Toronto’s history of losing to the Bruins spectacularly in the playoffs, paired with the Leafs 1-2-1 record against Boston this season, and then the fact that the Bruins had a record regular season in what some are believing will be Bergeron’s last go, yeah dodging Boston in favour of the team the Leafs went 3-0-1 against this season is fortunate. (It’s worth noting that two of those Leafs wins came in Overtime so Toronto isn’t as dominant as they look at first glance.)
Of course, you don’t need to go too far back to remember when the Leafs had a supposed easy out in the Montreal Canadiens, a team Toronto had a 7-2-1 regular season record against and Toronto stumbled against a team that put the effort into countering them perfectly.
While the Leafs were quite effective in keeping Matthew Tkachuk in check this season, the same cannot be said for Barkov and Montour. Given the way that Montour is playing and how often he was rumoured to the Leafs before he landed in Florida, he seems predestined to be a problem in the second round. It also seems very likely that the Panthers go back to Alex Lyon who had a .938 save percentage against the Leafs in his two games against them, while Bobrovsky had a .841 save percentage in his two games against the Leafs. It will be interesting to see if the Panthers go with their current hot hand or the guy who has goalie’d the Leafs twice.
When it comes to the Leafs side of things, Toronto has to be feeling pretty good about Samsonov and his .953 save percentage in his three games against the Panthers this season. Matthews had 5 goals in 4 games, Nylander had 5 points as well, as did Tavares, while Marner led the Leafs with 6 points against the Panthers this season. The numbers when it comes to this matchup very clearly favour Toronto, but there are some things worth noting about the Panthers.
Florida had a 3.51 GF/GP this season and that put them 6th in the league, ahead of Toronto and their 3.39 GF/GP. Their goaltending was decidedly worse as they had a 3.32 GA/GP, which isn’t surprising when we are talking about Sergei Bobrovsky. The Leafs were significantly better at 2.68 GA/GF. Powerplay wise the Panthers were 1oth in the league, but 12th if you look at net PP. They were 23rd on the PK, and once again the Leafs were significantly better.
The Leafs actually had more hits than the Panthers, but not by much, so if you look at Toronto’s deadline upgrades they are certainly the more physical team of the two, and Toronto also has more blocked shots, so like I said, things definitely favour Toronto. (This almost feels like a kiss of death, doesn’t it?)
Moneypuck’s odds are only showing the Leafs as a slight favourite, giving them a 56.8% chance of advancing to the 3rd round. That might be the best splash of cold water available at the moment.
As for when the second round starts, I’m sure the NHL would like to get it going sooner rather than later and potentially Toronto and Florida could be going as soon as Tuesday night. It would keep the Leafs on path for a Saturday night game and it seems likely that Sportsnet will do what they can to keep Toronto and Edmonton on opposite nights to maximize viewership. If the Leafs don’t go Tuesday, it would likely be Thursday, but that would be unfortunate and erase the advantage Toronto gained by wrapping up their series earlier.
Toronto will host games 1, 2, and games 5 and 7 if necessary. I fully expect that seconds after this post goes up the NHL will make the schedule official.
In the meantime, hopefully, the Leafs are taking a crash course on all things Florida Panthers. If any prep work was underway today this likely wasn’t the direction Toronto was leaning towards.
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