Florida Panthers Couldn’t Handle Tavares in 7-5 loss

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25: John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his third goal of the night against the Florida Panthers with teammate William Nylander #29 during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on March 25, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 25: John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his third goal of the night against the Florida Panthers with teammate William Nylander #29 during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on March 25, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Florida Panthers failed to exercise any of the demons from Saturday night, yet again giving up seven goals to a division rival in a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Despite two late goals from the Florida Panthers to make the scoreline seem interesting, it was one-way traffic for most of the game, with the Leafs flexing their muscles in the attacking zone for a majority of the game.

Fresh off giving up six goals in his last start, rookie goalie Sam Montembeault looked for an improved start to his next start after conceding just 2:23 into Saturday night’s outing. He did not get this improved start.

Even earlier into this game, in fact, Montembeault conceded at 2:06, as the Leafs worked a 3-on-2 through their third line, with Nazem Kadri finding Patrick Marleau at the back post to give Toronto the early lead.

The start went from bad to worse for Montembeault, as the Leafs tagged another goal just 2:46 afterward.

With four Panthers on the left side of the ice, former L.A. Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin was left all alone on the right, excellently found by Andreas Johnsson, and picking out the bottom left corner of Montembeault’s net with a huge slapshot.

This was all she wrote for Montembeault’s debut against Toronto, pulled by Bob Boughner less than five minutes in for Roberto Luongo, who was slated to start the following game against Montreal. The 22-year-old let in two goals on just four shots, an easily forgettable display.

With that said, are either really his fault? Both goals are very hard to stop for most goalies, despite the Muzzin goal maybe being a soft one to give up. Regardless, Montembeault was pulled.

The game settled down after that, as the Panthers seemed to be getting a foothold defensively for the next couple of minutes. That changed when Josh Brown took a frankly needless slashing penalty before a timeout, which gave the Leafs time to scheme up a power play.

They would make good use of the ensuing man advantage. Mitch Marner threw the puck on goal, parried by Luongo, but the puck remained in front, eventually given credit to John Tavares (we’ll come back to this one a few times) to increase Toronto’s lead to three.

The game seemed pretty lost at that point, dominated by a shot target that once stood as high as 15-3, down 3-0 on enemy ice. The Panthers did manage to put themselves back in this game multiple times, and it happened just 2:18 after the Tavares power-play goal.

The Panthers’ second line had been involved in the last five Florida goals before this game, and they made it six consecutive soon enough.

Mike Hoffman’s dangle created space between him and Morgan Rielly, just before sending the pass in front for an arriving Jayce Hawryluk to score in consecutive games. It was nothing more than a tap-in, but totally against the run of play, the Cats were back in it.

Not long after, Toronto regained their three-goal lead once again. Zach Hyman’snifty backhand pass found Tavares wide open in the slot (noticing a trend here?) to make it 4-1 Toronto after 15 minutes.

The former New York Islanders captain got free from rookie center Henrik Borgström to tap-in his second of the night.

Yet again, Florida met this with quick response. Yet another goal created by the second line, as Vincent Trocheck set up Mike Matheson at the blue line, sending a wrist shot through a crowd of Leafs and Panthers players alike, past Frederik Andersen to make it 4-2 Toronto.

That concluded an extremely hectic opening period, including a half-dozen of goals, one pulled goalie, and action at both ends.

Goalscorer Jayce Hawryluk was less than proud of the Panthers’ start to the game, saying this in his interview with Fox Sports Florida’s Randy Moller during intermission:

"“It’s pretty unacceptable on our part. We talked before this game about forgetting about the last game, but we didn’t. We came out flat… we just have to compete more. It’s obvious the lack of competing from us.”"

These kinds of fighting words would seem like it would light a fire under Florida, motivating them to bounce back from an albeit dreadful first period, even which they were only down by two. This would be the expectation, but not the reality.

The second period witnessed that same action, however with a large lack of goals, just one being scored all period. The Panthers had their chances, starting the period on the power play, creating several chances, but the Panthers continued to trail by two.

The Cats scored a goal against the run of play in the first, but it was the Leafs that scored the surprise goal in the second.

The Leafs broke out from a defensive zone faceoff into a 3-on-2 breakaway, in which Rielly’s shot was stopped by Luongo, but only forced into the path of Tavares, who passed the puck into an empty net, boosting Toronto’s lead to three goals again.

This was Tavares’ 10th career hat trick, and on all three goals, Tavares was given the room to score from close range. Fair play to him, he creates these chances by hovering around the crease, but the Panthers need to defend these kinds of plays better.

It was at this point that two strange events happened. Aleksander Barkov was high-sticked by Leafs defenseman Nikita Zaitsev in front of the goal, yet no call was made by the referees.

Soon after, it was the Panthers laying a big hit, with Troy Brouwer plowing into Andersen right out in front. Neither incident was ruled a penalty, and neither team tried to stick up for their players.

For the Leafs, it’s semi-understandable. They’re three goals up with no need to risk an injury as they set sail to clinch a playoff spot.

But the Panthers, with nothing to play for but pride, they didn’t stick up for their captain. Barkov stuck up for himself, going to the referees after the play, but the rest of his teammates (and coaches) held their tongues.

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The Leafs would make it 6-2 just under four minutes into the third period, with Tavares’ fourth goal giving Toronto a four-goal cushion. Just like the others, Tavares is left wide open in the crease to punch home a rebound that got through Luongo.

Despite a goal by Jonathan Huberdeau, the Leafs all but sealed the two points thirteen minutes from time.

Luongo lost his stick after making a brilliant save on Mitch Marner, but the Leafs stayed persistent and kept the puck alive in the zone.

Eventually, the puck found its way to Hyman, who was all alone on a stickless-Luongo in the slot, and there would only be one outcome: Hyman’s 20th goal on the season made it 7-3 Toronto.

The Panthers did manage to claw back into it, with both Huberdeau and Hawryluk doubling their goal tallies on the night, but it came with too little time to go.

The Leafs saw out the empty net chance for the Panthers to take another step towards officially clinching a playoff berth with a final score of 7-5.

In a deja vu experience to Saturday night, seven goals were given up. This isn’t acceptable, no matter how much the team may know playoffs are beyond them.

Next. Jonathan Huberdeau is Becoming a Superstar. dark

The fans asked for playoffs this year, and while they may not deliver, it would be nice to see the team end the season with some heart, rather than just playing like they’re already on the beach.