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Toronto Maple Leafs win a must win game, beat Panthers 5-3

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THEY DID IT!

Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

Previously on Toronto Maple Leafs vs Florida Panthers the Maple Leafs hosted the Panthers in a crucial game to try and build a lead against the Panthers, but lost 5-3. Previously to the previously, the Maple Leafs went to Miami, took a day off, then played the Panthers and lost 8-4.

Wow, I’m having some good luck with these Panthers/Leafs games eh?

Tonight’s game began well with a shot from Timothy Liljegren off the post a minute in that has the travelling Leafs fans on their feet.

The Florida Panthers come quickly down the ice to the Leafs zone and once again Mark Pysyk scores against the Maple Leafs to give the Panthers the lead early on in the first period.

After this goal, former Florida Panthers draft pick Zach Hyman will score to put the home away from home crowd on it’s feet and tie the game:

With less than four minutes played, it’s 1-1.

Play continues, uneventful, until the Panthers skate into the Leafs zone following an Alex Kerfoot turnover, and Frank Vatrano shoots into Frederik Andersen’s pads and Mike Hoffman is there for the rebound, tucks it nicely into the open side of the net. 2-1 Panthers.

There wasn’t a lot of defending going on in this play, Liljegren kind of just watches it happen.

Then, chaos happens.

The Leafs aren’t controlling the puck in their own zone, or the offensive zone as shown above, and their inability to exit the zone with the puck rather than missing a pass or dumping it out, comes back to haunt them as Nylander misses a pass that gets to the blue line and the Panthers defenders, which has Keith Yandle getting the puck to Noel Acciari who scores his 20th of the season.

William Nylander does his best to try and get the Leafs back in the game, skating in one on one, but the puck gets away from him, and the play ends up behind the net.

The Maple Leafs will get the first power play of the game when the Panthers are called for too many men on the ice.

The Panthers penalty kill was doing a good job at clogging the centre of the ice, causing the Leafs to struggle to get the puck into the offensive zone, and denying them a chance to set up.

Colton Sceviour gets the puck and comes into the Leafs zone, drawing Andersen into the far side of the net, but he skates around the net and by some miracle he doesn’t score:

The Leafs struggle to get past the Panthers PK, but just as the power play ends, Kasperi Kapanen gets a shot from the circle under Sergei Bobrovsky’s pad and brings the Leafs within one of the Panthers. 3-2.

The Maple Leafs tie the game after Matthews rubs off the puck-holding Panther on the boards behind the net, sending the puck up to Nylander who passes to Zach Hyman, who sends the puck across the crease to Auston Matthews who gets goal number 3 for Toronto:

Travis Dermott gets boarded by Lucas Wallmark (uncalled) and he goes down onto the ice. Mackenzie Weegar cross checks Kapanen (uncalled) and the two get into a scrap after the buzzer goes for the period.

The first ends with the game tied at three goals each.

Funny enough, this is also how the second period starts.

The start of the second period features the Panthers taking two shots on net, and seeing just how far they can push things without getting a call.

The Leafs decide to play hockey, and they attack the Panthers net with a bouncing puck and Barrie, Sandin, and Matthews do their best to try and score.

Zach Hyman almost scores a bit later on, but Bobrovsky splits himself in half to try and cover the net after he loses his stick, and denies the Leafs a fourth goal.

Both teams are getting their moments in the game and things are being kept tight between the two. Halfway through the game the goals are tied, the shots are tied, and we’re moving up and down the ice in waves.

Auston Matthews hasn’t been afraid to use his body in this game. He did it ahead of the second Leafs goal, and he continues to push people around.

The Leafs are not playing passively at all, or giving up as much room to the Panthers as they did in the firs period. They’ve more than doubled the number of Panthers shots, and controlling the puck in all three zones. The urgency of this game is being felt by all of the players on the ice.

I mean, most of the Leafs feel this urgency. Some are panicking.

Despite the play of the Leafs, Sergei Bobrovsky has played to their level, denying every chance they take and keeping the game tied. This isn’t to say Andersen hasn’t been tested, but he hasn’t been nearly as active as his Floridian counterpart.

As we have only three and a half minutes remaining, Martin Marincin is called for interference, giving the Panthers their first power play of the game.

The Panthers get the puck into the offensive zone, but the PK duo of Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner get the puck and they almost connect to take the lead, but once again Bobrovsky makes the save.

The Leafs change PK units, and Pierre Engvall and Kapanen try the same trick as Hyman-Marner, but Kapanen shoots wide on the play. The penalty is killed, but the Leafs offense is not. They keep digging hard and Auston Matthews wins a puck battle on the boards, gets it to Tavares who shoots but can’t score and the period will end still tied at three each.

The second period was completely different from the first. It was just great to see the Leafs not collapse into themselves after going down 3-1, rally to tie the game and come out harder and stronger than in the first.

Neither of these teams are happy with each other, and the first minute of the period sees a scrum along the boards with Jason Spezza skating away with words for the Panthers. Andersen makes some saves before and after this, and the Panthers have added a bit of an edge to their game for the final frame.

The Panthers are also aware of the magic that is Auston Matthews and panic when they see he has the puck:

The Maple Leafs trap the puck in the offensive zone, with Justin Holl playing the role of border guard at the blue line, and we see Jason Spezza almost score, as the Leafs increasing pressure on the net. The Panthers do a good defensive job, and eventually end the cycle.

The Maple Leafs have another mad scramble in the Panthers zone that sees Matthews, Hyman, and Kyle Clifford all make attempts on goal. Martin Marincin almost misplays the puck out of the zone but William Nylander scoops it up and scores the Leafs fourth goal of the game to finally break the tie.

The Leafs start to get a little sloppy as the period ticks on, giving away the puck just a little more than they have been, letting the Panthers have a bit more room in front of Andersen. Nothing to really worry about, but that little worrying bit at the back of my mind was working itself up.

Neither team is letting up, taking their foot on the gas, and all that. Weegar, Pysyk, and Aleksander Barkov all push hard for the Panthers, while Auston Matthews continues his reign of dominance over these last two periods.

At the two minute remaining mark, Andersen makes a vital save, keeping the Leafs in the lead. The Panthers call a time out with 1:52 left in the game as my blood pressure rises. The Panthers keep Bobrovsky on the bench following the time out.

The Leafs win the face-off and get the puck to the neutral zone, but the Panthers keep the Leafs from getting an empty net goal. The Panthers get a couple good shots on Andersen (Yandle, Barkov), and the Leafs are struggling to get the puck out of their zone. A lot of struggles but they battle against the Panthers defense and Justin Holl makes a desperate dump out of the zone, and it manages to roll into the empty net, giving the Leafs a 5-3 win over the team they’re trying to keep ahead of in the standings.

It was a very good game to watch the Leafs actually fight back against a disappointing start (three goals on six shots), and maintain a lead despite hard pressure coming from the opposition in the final minutes.

The Leafs bump their points lead to four ahead of the Panthers, and get a stronger hold onto the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

The next Maple Leafs game is Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks. Can they make it three wins in a row?