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Recap: Leafs maul a tired Panthers team and then have to hang on for a 4-3 win

The Leafs started hot, the Panthers finished as hard as they could, but it wasn’t enough.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight is a rare end of season game that matters to someone. The Panthers, that is, not the Leafs. Let’s see if they can claw their way closer to a wild card spot. Lu’s in goal, the Leafs have all their young guys on the ice, let’s play.

First Period

Lu. That’s all I’m saying. He makes a good stop on James van Riemsdyk and then just robs Tyler Bozak. (Have you noticed that Bozak tends to need more time than usual to set up on the wide open net? He’s a pass-first guy for a reason.)

Holy sheep shit. Mitch Marner with a rocket of a shot. I’m surprised it didn’t rip the mesh on the net:

1-0 Leafs at barely over three minutes in.

Tomas Plekanec has an assist on this one.

Leafs immediately give up a chance because they are the Leafs.

Marner draws a penalty with his awesome, and now it’s Leafs PP time.

So this power play. What to say about it? The first unit is not very on the ball, giving up a two-on-one by total group failure by anyone whose number starts with 4.

The second unit at least looks like they’ve played hockey, and Nikita Zaitsev gets a chance that just skitters wide.

Lu is Lu.

Fourth line with a long shift that’s part-time in each zone. In the last game, Mike Babcock played some depth players a lot, and carefully used Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev. I expect that to continue as a subtle form of rest.

Keith Yandle gets caught being a dwinger (while the Leafs are giving up quality chances), and the Leafs turn it around (see, it was all part of their clever plan) with William Nylander making a cool play to let the less than stellar pass come up between his feet. And he thought maybe Auston would like goal number 30. He was correct.

2-0 Leafs.

I swear the third pair are the only defenders playing tonight.

Dad Marleau comes to help Marner in a corner battle. So to celebrate, Marner takes the puck on a tour and passes it to Marleau to get a gorgeous goal.

3-0 Leafs.

The Leafs are just running the Panthers all over the ice. And then they just let Jonathan Huberdeau take the puck and roar up the ice. So I look at the clock and think, yeah, last couple of minutes, time for the goal against.

3-1 Leafs.

Mitch Marner has now fallen down for the third time. Last game the players were all falling constantly.

Whoa, Lu with another steal on Bozie.

Thoughts

Honestly? No matter what happens the Leafs will be in third place in the Atlantic tomorrow. But this is a fun and fast game that is illustrating all the Leafs strengths and weaknesses. You know by now what they are.

Rielly and Gardiner lead the D in ice time. Hainsey and Zaitsev come next, not quite a minute behind, and then Dermott with Polak last. Dermott had to have got some time with the first two guys. They all look good by Leafs standards. They all look like if you really pressure them, you get a scoring chance.

Second Period

The Leafs look like they’re trying to win the fastest skater competition.

Did Dermott just kick the puck to keep it in the zone? He did.

The Leafs take a penalty for hooking by van Riemsdyk, and then kill the penalty like they’re the Marlies or something. Kasperi Kapanen gets a nice shorty chance, and then just to spice things up, Polak slashes Huberdeau, a very Polakian penalty.

Less than 30 seconds of a five-on-three is killed by Andersen and Zaitsev, but hilariously, the fourth PKer has to be van Riemsdyk because the Leafs can’t clear as his penalty expires. He’s got a long stick, and Andersen is Andersen. Zaitsev saves one too.

We’re back at five-on-five.

The Matthews line tests Lu, and he passes. The Panthers are letting Nylander and Marner do that puck tour of the offensive zone totally unopposed. Not that I’m complaining.

Huberdeau has about six chances by now.

The post saves one from Aaron Ekblad.

I’m left wondering if Florida realizes they should do something in the neutral zone other than try to keep up.

Leafs are getting loose and mistake-prone. Big juicy turnovers for everyone. Even Huberdeau. D’oh.

3-2 Leafs.

Leafs. Smarten up. (There was some chance of an offside challenge, but the penalty if your wrong seemed to sway them to not do it.)

Leafs are pinned by the Panthers, and the fast and exciting fourth line doesn’t look so great in their own end. Who does, though?

Gardiner all over Dadonov defensively.

Leafs pressuring hard with the Matthews line in the final minutes. They keep it up with the Bozak line.

Thoughts

I was going to make a joke about van Riemsdyk setting a career high in PK minutes, but I see he played 116:52 in 2013-2014. Those were the days, eh? How are the Ducks doing, by the way?

Third Period

Johnsson is playing on the Matthews line in Nylander’s spot in this period. Nylander is playing on the fourth line for just a touch. It seems like that goal against didn’t sit too well with the coach, or Nylander’s dinner didn’t sit too well with him as he misses a stretch of minutes. That it just happens to be a way to get a longer look at Johnsson in his more natural part of the lineup is, I’m sure, not a consideration.

And now we’re back to normal, so that was a short-lived bit of fun.

No one looks very sharp right now, near the half. The Panthers offence is easy to disperse, and the Leafs never really get anything going. The Panthers are winning on the shot clock though, and have had a few good chances. Leafs should try that goal scoring thing.

Lots of Panthers shots, not a lot of anything else, and nothing Andersen can’t handle so far, but this isn’t the best Leafs period in recorded history.

Oh hello. Bozak with a sweet centering pass to his friend and colleague, who he’s proud to call a colleague, James van Riemsdyk. His 35th. And 200th.

4-2 Leafs.

Nice classic JvR goal.

Yikes, nearly a goal on a wrap around. Hainsey gets it. Andersen doesn’t get all the saves.

Yikes times two, Marner takes a dumb holding the stick penalty. So a PP for the bad guys with over six minutes to go.

Kappy with a shorty rush. Drink!

The penalty is killed very nicely.

Andersen shuts the door on a good Florida chance.

Three minutes, and the Panthers have not pulled Lu yet, but he’s practically pulled himself. Good thing he didn’t. He needs to make a save on a rush chance. Leafs have pulled this game back to even if you score adjust it, and the Panthers have not much gas in the tank.

Lu is out with two minutes to go.

The Panthers score on the six-on-five. Bouncy rebound goes in on a bit of a fluke.

4-3 Leafs.

The Leafs ice it, which is not great.

The Panthers do it back, and that’s likely the game for them. They try a goalie-change timeout, but you can’t do that trick any more. Nice try though. James Reimer’s cameo ends before it begins.

Florida has one more chance, but that’s the ball game.

Thoughts

The Leafs made some defensive mistakes for sure, but in terms of overall limiting of dangerous chances, they were better than they usually are, particularly in the first two periods. If they’d been playing a more meaningful game, they would have run this Panthers team into the ground. The mistakes really stood out, but the Leafs chances came very easy. Is that the Panthers tired, on the road, and nearing the end of a hard push for the wild card, or is that the Leafs? Both, I suppose.

Clinching

If the Avs beat the Flyers, the Leafs are in the playoffs. You may stay up if you like, I shall find out in the morning that the Leafs are still third in the Atlantic and going to the playoffs in that spot.