Florida Panthers Blow Key Chance, Fall 5-3 to Toronto

SUNRISE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 27: Riley Stillman #61 and Anton Stralman #6 of the Florida Panthers react after William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (not pictured) scored a goal during the third period at BB&T Center on February 27, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 27: Riley Stillman #61 and Anton Stralman #6 of the Florida Panthers react after William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs (not pictured) scored a goal during the third period at BB&T Center on February 27, 2020 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Florida Panthers lost one of their biggest games of the season on Thursday, falling 5-3 at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, giving up four straight goals to close the game.

Both teams knew what this game meant going into tonight, it would determine who holds the final playoff spot in the Atlantic. Toronto opened the game on 74 points, two points ahead of the Florida Panthers, who had (and still have) a game in hand.

The first period had about everything you would want from a hockey game, tied up at three after the first 20 minutes. During that first, the expected goals ratio was 1.46, but there wound up being six goals in the opening period.

The Panthers were fantastic at creating rebound chances in the opening stages. Mark Pysyk opened the scoring just over two and a half minutes in, with Aaron Ekblad shuffling a rebound given up by Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen to find Pysyk crashing to the net. It was Pysyk’s ninth goal of the season, the fourth against Toronto, and the Cats took the lead early on.

The Cats scored the first five goals in the 8-4 win over Toronto in the first meeting in Sunrise, but Toronto got their leveler under a minute after the Pysyk goal. Anton Stralman failed to mark Zach Hyman in front, stabbing home his 20th goal of the season within inches of Sergei Bobrovsky‘s crease to level the scoring.

Florida settled into one of their better consistent minutes of play after the Hyman goal. The Leafs failed to record a shot on goal for 11 minutes following Hyman’s equalizer, with Florida getting two more goals in the time frame.

New Panther Erik Haula recorded his first point as a member of the Cats, playing Frank Vatrano in behind. Vatrano shot for a rebound, bouncing right to Mike Hoffman, who slammed home his 26th on the season to make it 2-1 Florida. The goal was Hoffman’s fourth in his last four games, as well as his fourth goal against the Leafs this season.

Soon after, Noel Acciari got the Panthers’ insurance goal. Keith Yandle gave it to Acciari on the right wing, throwing a wrist shot off the far post and in to make it 3-1. It was a shot that Andersen really should’ve had, but one that Acciari would take all the same, his 20th goal in his career-season.

In a game that Florida appeared to have a clear grip on, a mental mistake put Toronto right back into it. The Panthers took a too many men penalty, which Florida did kill off, but Kasperi Kapanen scored within seconds of the penalty kill. Kapanen was found by Jason Spezza, who threw the puck right through the Panther slot. The shot from the Finnish winger took a deflection off Ekblad’s stick to beat Bobrovsky, and put Toronto back in it.

With a little over a minute to go in the first, Toronto got the game level again. Auston Matthews beat MacKenzie Weegar to his own dump-in, throwing the puck out in front, eventually riccocheting back to him to tie the game at 3. Matthews was seemingly uncontainable tonight, getting his 44th goal of the season just before intermission.

The second period was dominated by Toronto, with the Leafs bossing shots on goal as well as time of possession in the period. Florida also had the lone power play of the period (in which they failed to register a shot on goal), but recorded just four shots on goal in the second frame.

Sergei Bobrovsky had an excellent second period for the Cats. Bobrovsky saved 13 shots in the second, including a fantastic sprawling save to deny Mitch Marner on a two-on-one.

In the third, the offense just never seemed to come. Toronto again controlled the puck for the vast majority of the frame before taking the lead. After falling behind, Florida tried to claw their way back into it, but ultimately didn’t find a true test for Andersen in the third period.

The Leafs’ game winner came through William Nylander, who, like Matthews, found a loose puck at the doorstep to slot past Bobrovsky, putting Toronto in front with 11:00 to play. Eventually, clock struck midnight for Florida as Justin Holl lobbed the puck into an empty net with just over twenty seconds to play. The win means Toronto push four points ahead of Florida in the search for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic.

There were plenty of concerns in tonight’s loss. Overall, the Panthers looked nervous to have the lights on them, committing silly turnovers trying to force the puck, rather than settling down, looking around for places to go with it. Anton Stralman was poor at the back, basically at fault for Toronto’s first goal, with Riley Stillman coming back to earth after one of his best games last time out.

Outside of the fourth line of Colton Sceviour, Mark Pysyk, and Noel Acciari (all of which were fantastic against Toronto), there wasn’t a whole ton of offense to be created. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were held to just 1 SOG each. Lucas Wallmark‘s third line was pretty poor, with Wallmark struggling in the face-off dot after a brilliant debut Tuesday against Arizona.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a healthy Leafs defense. This isn’t the Leafs with Morgan Rielly, one of the top two-way defenseman in the entire league. Nor do the Leafs have Jake Muzzin, a capable defenseman at both ends who would be on the second pairing for a majority of NHL teams.

This was a Leafs defense that dressed six players that were AHL players last season, and they deserve credit. Justin Holl, who’s been one of the more reliable faces across the Toronto blue line, boasting a +11 on the season, very good tonight. Travis Dermott, someone beloved by Leafs fans for his physical presence, kept up with the speed of the Panthers quite well. Even Martin Marincin, who struggled in the first period, turned it around with a key assist and an immense block with less than 5:00 to play to keep the Leafs in front.

It was an overall pathetic display from a team that needed a win, had the lead to work with, but ran out of creativity after one period. The stats look very even in the end, but Toronto had the momentum for 35 of the last 40 minutes of the game.

Next. Panthers Grind Out 2-1 Win vs Arizona. dark

The Panthers return to the ice on Saturday at 6:00 P.M. for Joel Quenneville’s 1,700th NHL game as head coach, taking on his former team in the Chicago Blackhawks. For now, most importantly, Florida are on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.