The Florida Panthers put their fans through a roller coaster ride of emotions in one of their biggest games of the season Monday night, winning 5-3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This game was one that meant so much in the standings for both teams. Going into this game, Joel Quenneville‘s Florida Panthers were two points behind Toronto, despite being two games in hand. By the end of the night, Florida jumped Toronto, still with two games in hand.
The game was an uphill challenge from the start for Florida, with captain Aleksander Barkov out following an injury suffered in Montreal. Toronto had also won their last three games coming into this one, and were the better team for the better part of 40 minutes tonight.
The first period started similarly to the way the Panthers had played in Montreal, sloppy and uninspired. Toronto grabbed the first ten shots on goal to start the game, with Sergei Bobrovsky fanning aside all ten. It took Florida roughly 11:20 to even test starter Frederik Andersen.
Ten seconds after that first shot, completely against the run of play, Florida went in front. Mike Matheson made a really nice play down the right wing, saucing it in front to Mark Pysyk, who was able to break free of his man to put the Panthers 1-0. At this point, Pysyk broke his career-high in goals in a season with five, but he had more to say as the night went on.
Florida would go on to grab five of the next six shots on goal, but were unable to increase their advantage. Incidentally, Frank Vatrano would actually injure Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen. Vatrano tried to stretch for a pass across the crease from Mike Hoffman, colliding with the Leafs’ net minder. While he wouldn’t leave the game immediately, former Panthers goalie Michael Hutchinson would replace Andersen to start the second.
The second period was one of the more infuriating periods the Panthers had played all season. Florida would test Hutchinson just three times that period, with a tame slapshot from the blue line counting as a shot on goal. Toronto would outshoot Florida by nine, and eventually take the lead.
The first goal came just three minutes into the period on the power play. Mitch Marner sent a puck into the slot, which John Tavares was somehow able to redirect into the air and past Bobrovsky, giving him his 19th of the season and knotting the score at one.
Then 14 minutes later, Toronto would hit the front. William Nylander, who has been in fantastic goalscoring form this season, tapped home Kasperi Kapanen‘s feed to make it 2-1 Leafs. This set up a grandstand third period, with the game separated by just one goal.
This was a deficit which seemed like something that would stand. The Leafs had all the momentum for the last 23 minutes, the Florida attack was abysmal outside of Matheson and Pysyk, the least likely two names, and the Toronto home crowd would ride out four points clear of Florida.
This, however, was a different Florida Panthers team. Within two minutes they were level, and within 20, they had won.
Mark Pysyk, the man who opened the scoring, started the comeback. Pysyk, again, wormed free of the defense in front to stab home a rebound to make it 3-2. Again, the shot came in from Mike Matheson, who got his second primary assist of the night.
Seconds later, Toronto would take a penalty, and Florida would take advantage. Mike Hoffman somehow picked out Jonathan Huberdeau for his 19th goal on the season, just able to bend the puck in to tie the game.
At this point, there were multiple chances for Toronto to go back in front. First, Sergei Bobrovsky made one of, if not the, save of the night, sliding across his goalmouth from left to right to deny Pierre Engvall. Next, Auston Matthews had a huge chance on the power play off a brilliant pass from Nylander, but with Bobrovsky down, Matthews rung the iron.
The Leafs would live to rue these untaken chances, as Aaron Ekblad‘s shot would bounce off the boards behind Hutchinson’s goal, perfectly for Mike Hoffman to put Florida ahead. Hoffman’s 19th goal came with an assist from Matheson, his third point of the game.
Finally, with the Toronto net empty, Mark Pysyk would swipe the puck away from Marner before sliding the puck in from his knees to seal the game. That, if you lost track, was Pysyk’s third goal of the game, getting his first career hat trick, 5-3.
The game would finish with that score, placing Florida back into third place in the division, still with two games in hand on Toronto. One of these games will take place tomorrow night, as the Cats take on the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets.