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Recap: Leafs 3 - Panthers 2 (SO)

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NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs return from their Christmas break with a back to back in Florida, the first of which is The Computer Boys Bowl. The last time these teams faced off, Mitch Marner ran roughshod and gave former Leaf James Reimer a tough time. Since then, the Panthers have fired their coach, hired an interim one, had their owner be nominated to a Cabinet position by Donald Trump, and reportedly re-instated their previously marginalized GM. It’s a confusing time in Florida.

As for the Leafs, they’re fresh off beating up on two terrible teams in Colorado and Arizona, and a few more wins could see them vault up the standings and into a tenuous playoff spot. It’s still way too early to get particularly excited or disappointed, but the Leafs playing somewhat meaningful games is refreshing.

Let’s get into the action.

Pregame

So I’m watching some of the pregame stuff, and I have to give Sportsnet some props. They’ve really improved their game production this year. They had a decent breakdown of the Leafs penalty kill, and they’re nowhere near as reactionary as in years past. They deserve kudos for that.

Tyler Bozak is also back from injury, and that is a huge benefit to the Leafs, who have terrible centre depth. Byron Froese sits out, while Frederik Gauthier moves to the fourth line.

First Period
  • [Before puck drop] When did smelling salts on the bench become a thing? To my recollection, they just showed up a couple years ago.
  • [19:44] Damn, it is empty in the BB&T Center.
  • [19:06] Looks like some of the defence pairings are a little jumbled compared to usual. Will be interesting to see if this is a regular thing or not.
  • [18:20] Hunlak is not one of the jumbled pairings.
  • [17:53] The fourth line has a good shift where they transition the puck from the defensive zone to offensive, but Gauthier takes a high sticking penalty at the end of it. Panthers to the PP.
  • [17:20] Obviously, that also takes away a useful penalty killer for the Leafs. Will be a harder kill than most.
  • [16:31] Panthers have some great puck movement leading to a cross-ice pass to Jagr, but he misses the net, and the Leafs catch a break.
  • [15:53] Jagr creeps in front as the power play ends and gets another big chance. Panthers carrying play early, aided by that Gauthier penalty.
  • [15:26] Andersen has had to make some good saves early. Looks to be continuing his excellent form.
  • [14:20] Bozak makes his first impact on the game, getting a zone entry and setting up a Polak blast from the point. Bozak is playing with his usual linemates.
  • [13:37] The Leafs take another penalty, something that has been a bit of a habit for them in recent games. Looks like it’ll be a trip on Gauthier (second of the night for him).
  • [13:11] Hopefully it doesn’t burn the Leafs here, but they’re definitely living dangerously.
  • [12:40] The Leafs penalty kill is very, very aggressive, specifically in denying zone entries.
  • [11:42] Demers and Ekblad blast some shots from the point, but no major chances otherwise. Freddie standing tall.
  • [10:15] The Leafs have got nothing going early on. Haven’t been able to carry the puck through the neutral zone, and Florida isn’t yielding anything on dump-ins.
  • [9:22] And as I say that, the Leafs score! Hyman does some great puck retrieval on a dump-in, creates the turnover and centres to Brown. He gets a shot on net, but it falls right to Matthews’ stick, who can’t stop scoring right now. 1-0 Leafs. That line is dynamite.
  • [8:52] Now Marner with a breakaway! A great poke check by Luongo seemed to flummox the rookie, and he didn’t get a shot away.
  • [7:55] The Leafs scored on their first real chance of the game, but I’m not complaining. Hopefully they can start to get some more pressure as the game progresses.
  • [7:11] The Panthers are doing a really good job pressuring the Leafs defencemen when making a breakout pass. They’re tipping or slowing down a lot of passes/movement leaving the Leafs zone, resulting in a pretty plodding pace thus far.
  • [6:09] A great rush by the Panthers sees the puck in the slot on the stick of a Florida player. JVR made a great backcheck to force him to fan on the puck. The play progresses, and Andersen fires a long pass to Marner, who is making a habit of leaking out a little early (in a smart way). He smacks a slapper, but Luongo fights it off.
  • [5:24] Matthews and his line is so good at generating cycle pressure. He reminds me a lot of Kopitar in that sense. A strong effort from them leads to a point shot from Zaitsev and a mad scramble in front of the net, which Luongo adeptly keeps out.
  • [5:24] I should also clarify - he’s not a one man show on that line. Hyman and Brown have both been excellent when paired with him, as has Nylander when given the chance.
  • [3:51] So far, the Matthews line has been the only one to generate consistent offensive pressure. Bozak’s group has been next best, mostly on the strength of Marner’s chances.
  • [2:27] Brown is able to enter with speed on a rush and it results in a nice chance for him by the side of the net. After the puck goes the other way, a neutral zone turnover by Florida results in a Matthews shot of a Brown pass, but Luongo keeps it out.
  • [1:46] Kadri’s line seems to have been relatively ineffective so far. It’s a great line on paper, but in general, 47 - 43 - 29 has had pretty poor shot results.
  • [0:45] A 3-on-2 is masterfully defended by Zaitsev, who totally blocks off Colton Sceviour from getting a shot.
  • [0:00] Period ends, with shots 15-14 for Florida. Almost all of the damage for the Leafs has been done by the Matthews line. Bozak’s group has also been good from that point of view, but the nominal third and fourth lines (Kadri’s and Gauthier’s group) have gotten shelled.
  • In general, the Kadri group has been underwhelming when paired together. I’m not quite sure what it is that’s hurting them, to be honest.
Second Period
  • [19:16] Strong first shift by Florida to start the second. Jagr comes in and outwaits Hunwick to get a great scoring chance as he cuts across the middle of the ice, but Hunwick acquits himself well and blocks the shot.
  • [18:31] The Kadri line again gets hemmed in off a lost draw, and surrenders some more chances against. Like I said, they haven’t been good today. Part of that may be their matchup against Trochek’s line, but still.
  • [17:08] Offsetting penalties lead to 4-on-4. Hopefully the Leafs can generate something here. Something beyond the Matthews line anyways.
  • [15:55] 4-on-4 passes without much going on. Leafs still up by 1.
  • [15:07] In the aftermath of the 4-on-4, there’s some scrambled lines. Nyalnder - Bozak- Brown gets some run, and doesn’t accomplish much. In fact, Bozak ends up taking a hooking penalty in his own zone. Leafs to the penalty kill again.
  • [14:28] Andersen keeps on killing it. Off the faceoff, a bouncing puck falls to Barkov at the side of the net. Andersen robs him as if it’s no big deal.
  • [14:07] Gauthier makes the best play of his NHL career. He intercepts an attempt to keep the puck in the Leafs zone, streaks down the wing, and executes a nice toe drag to center the puck to Hyman, who is absolutely stoned by Luongo. Seriously, that was a ridiculous play by the Goat.
  • [13:01] Not too many great shots from the Panthers here, outside their first PP shift. Leafs aggressiveness serving them well here.
  • [11:31] Hunlak seems to have had a quietly not-awful game.
  • [11:02] In the aftermath of the penalty, Matthews takes a shift in Komarov’s place on Kadri’s line. They get two nice chances - one was set up by Nylander to Kadri. The other was Matthews to Nylander, but the puck hopped off his stick and went out of play.
  • [10:13] Kadri’s line finally gets some territorial advantage of their own. No real chances or shots result, but it’s a step in the right direction.
  • [9:34] What a save from Luongo! A beautiful tip in from JVR at the blue line sends Marner alone, cutting through the middle of the Florida defense. He’s had a bunch of great chances, all denied by Luongo, and this one is no different.
  • [9:21] The Leafs have now strung together a few excellent shifts in a row. Hopefully a sign of things to come.
  • [7:54] Some firewagon hockey now. A strong shift from the Kadri group leads to a few shots, but a blocked Zaitsev attempt leads to a Panthers rush the other way, led by Seth Griffith. He adeptly finds the trailer for a shot from the slot, but Andersen kicks it aside. This sends Nylander away on a 2 on 1 with Komarov, with Rielly trailing. He finds Rielly, who goes wide on his backhand, only to be stymied by Luongo. Both goalies gave been excellent.
  • [6:27] Florida breaks the run of Leafs play by hemming in their fourth line. The Leafs escape without any damage.
  • [6:10] Marner again uses his speed to generate a chance, and is again stopped by Luongo. He’s been excellent tonight, as usual.
  • [5:33] Quietly excellent play from Jake Gardiner. He intercepts a pass in the Leafs zone and feathers a pass ahead of Matthews to chase, light enough to not trigger an icing. Smart, heady play from the Leafs best defenseman.
  • [4:16] Another long pass for Marner and he gets and maintains control of the Panthers zone. Despite his size, he’s great at protecting the puck in space with his agility and the threat of his speed. It doesn’t lead to anything incredible for the Leafs, but its a small example of what makes him great.
  • [3:15] The Leafs finally get a power play, as Brown gets obstructed behind the Florida net. Big chance to double the lead here.
  • [3:05] The Leafs do so immediately! And it’s JVR who gets it done from in tight. A nice pass from Bozak finds Kadri diving towards the net, and the puck finds its way to JVR, who uses his magic hands from in tight to finish it over Luongo. 2-0 Leafs.
  • [3:05] In the aftermath of the goal, Jokkinen takes a frustration penalty as the Leafs celebrated. The Panthers also are challenging for goalie interference, as Kadri’s skate brushed Luongo’s blocker just before JVR shot. I could see this being called back.
  • [3:05] So if this gets called back, do the Leafs get a 5-on-3? How does this work?
  • [3:05] The goal is overturned. That’s a good call, in my opinion - I’d be upset if the same goal was scored on the Leafs, and wasn’t called back. It turns out the Leafs will get a two-man advantage for 1:50. Also a good call. Back to 1-0 Leafs.
  • [2:47] And the Leafs take a penalty? JVR goes to the box for interference. That’s a stupid penalty for him to take.
  • [2:06] William Nylander cares not for your goaltender interference challenges! Great goal by him, with his trademark short-side high wrister off a cross-ice feed from Matthews. Now it’s actually 2-0 Leafs.
  • [1:46] Now 4-on-4 for a bit, and the Panthers will have an abbreviated power play afterwards.
  • [1:15] Nylander hasn’t done a ton at even strength today (though his group has been better in the second), but he is ridiculously dangerous on the power play.
  • [0:40] JVR is out of the box and the Leafs start a change to finish off the period.
  • [0:00] Leafs add to their lead in the period, and have generally played well tonight, with the rookies leading the way. In particular, Matthews and Marner (despite not scoring) have been excellent. And of course, Nylander possesses the ability to change a game in any given moment, and he did just that with his goal.
Third Period
  • [19:31] The Panthers get one back immediately, as Jonathan Marchessault capitalizes on a rebound from a point shot from Yandle. The Panthers have a lot more life now.
  • [18:25] The crowd is ... semi into this game? Mostly for the Leafs, but the Panthers fans that are there seem to be louder, bolstered by the Panthers renewed life.
  • [17:36] The Leafs are having all sorts of trouble in their own zone. Kadri’s line with two terrible shifts to start the period.
  • [17:17] Welp, it was coming. Vincent Trochek scores for the Panthers, and it’s 2-2. All the momentum with Florida now. Another rebound goal, though certainly no real fault of Andersen’s.
  • [17:17] Babcock uses his timeout. Leafs look shell-shocked.
  • [16:09] JVR gets a breakaway now! He picks the pocket of the Panthers D at the point and streaks in on Luongo, who has saved about a million Leafs breakaways at this point.
  • [14:59] Competing “Lets go Panthers” and “Go Leafs go” chants now. Crowd is actually into it. Always good to see.
  • [14:25] Carrick not having a good start to this period at all. HIs blind clearance up the board led to Florida’s first goal, and he’s turning it over more than a bakery now.
  • [13:39] Oh, what a save by Luongo! Some great work by Hyman behind the net to get control of the puck, and he centres to Matthews. His quick shot is somehow gloved by Luongo, though I have no clue how - (another) ridiculous save from him.
  • [12:22] The Leafs have gotten chances in spurts, but I still feel like Florida is likelier to score next.
  • [11:16] Some great work from the Kadri line to keep possession results in Nylander drawing a penalty on Bjugstad. Unfortunately, they also call Nylander on a dive, which to be honest, is a total horseshit call. So to 4-on-4 we go.
  • [9:35] Pretty slow 4-on-4 in terms of shots and chances thus far.
  • [9:25] I’m not really one to crap on refs, but they have not been good today, especially for the Leafs. I can’t express enough how bad that diving call was.
  • [9:15] By the way, Barkov was injured by a shot in the second period. Won’t return this game.
  • [7:32] Marner has been buzzing all around the net today. Can’t beat Luongo, unfortunately.
  • [6:54] And now there’s a penalty shot! A pass from Matthews to Gardiner hops over his stick, and Malgin is off on a breakaway. He gets slashed by Gardiner trying to recover, and the ref points to centre ice.
  • [6:54] Freddie saves it! Great save, and at this point in the game, that may well result in a point for the Leafs.
  • [5:34] The Leafs D is playing pretty conservative in the attacking zone now. Not a lot of pinching, not a lot of jumping into the play.
  • [5:00] Panthers with a great shift as Jagr works his big-ass magic and generates some chances off the cycle.
  • [4:13] Panthers definitely getting the better of chances now. Nylander is a little lackadaisical on the forecheck, and Florida gets out of their own zone with ease. A great cross-ice pass finds a Panther in acres of room, but he can’t finish.
  • [2:18] The Kadri line is getting curbstomped now. They just can’t sustain offensive zone pressure (not aided by the sudden gun-shy nature of the Leafs D), and Florida nearly finds a way past Andersen, who has been just as good as Luongo.
  • [1:20] More strong chances from Florida, who have dominated the third period.
  • [0:24] Nylander scored today, but he’s been terrible at even strength. Legitimately terrible. Lots of aimless dump-ins. The Leafs need to re-evaluate him with Kadri/Komarov, because it has not worked through the handful of games that they’ve tried it.
  • [0:00] To overtime we go, as there’s no change in score.
Overtime
  • [4:19] This is so hard to recap in real time. So much happens. Most notably, the Leafs gave up a breakaway, but Zaitsev recovered admirably.
  • [3:29] The Panthers are dominating the 3-on-3 territorially. Lazy work from the Leafs in their own zone, but they survive for now.
  • [1:39] I don’t know how this game isn’t over. But Florida takes a too many men penalty, and the Leafs will be on the PP for the rest of this game.
  • [1:01] Leafs with the same unit that led to the Nylander goal. Lets hope they replicate it here.
  • [0:39] Matthews is robbed! Nylander finds him with space in front, but Luongo reads his backhand and saves it. Ridiculous, ridiculous save.
  • [0:00] And we will go to a shootout. Otherwise known as, Leafs lose.
  • Trocheck up first. He stops up and shoots five hole, but Andersen stares him down.
  • Matthews up next. Luongo read him like a book, and makes the save look easy.
  • Seth Griffith up next. Also stopped by Andersen.
  • Kadri goes for the Leafs. He goes backhand, but Luongo is apparently in the matrix, and casually blocks it.
  • Bjugstad meanders his way towards Andersen, and his backhand deke dribbles wide.
  • Marner with a chance to win it.... and he does! A cheeky five-hole flip shot dribbles by Luongo.
  • The Leafs finally get off the schneid in the shootout, and this is a big one to get, with a back to back looming against Tampa Bay tomorrow night. Also a big two points for the Buds burgeoning playoff hopes.
  • Tampa pulled a Houdini act to escape from Montreal with a ROW, which isn’t great for the Leafs, but they’ll have a chance tomorrow to make up some ground in the standings.