Florida Panthers @ Toronto Maple Leafs
07:00 PM at Scotiabank Arena
Watch on: ESPN, CBC, TVAS, SN
It's a well-trodden path, but new to this New Maple Leafs team. The second round is where you find out if the naysayers were right, and your first round win was one of those random events hockey is famous for. The Maple Leafs believe they are where they should be. But so do the Panthers.
Also on tonight, Seattle takes on Dallas in a colour clash in the west.
I think branding plays a lot in how people view teams. The Bruins play a fairly open style and lost Round 1 in the defensive zone, but Boston will be big and tough and defensively responsible for about as long as the Leafs will be the opposite. Forever, in other words.
The Panthers, therefore, are a joke team with no fans and they aren't really any good, and maybe they goalied the Bruins. You can believe that tripe if you like, but the Leafs had better not.
The Panthers have the highest rate of Expected Goals for in the NHL as of now. They were second to the Hurricanes in the regular season by a very literal hair, and a few hairs above Toronto. They had an excellent power play by Expected Goals, a few hairs below Toronto's. That power-play excellence deserted them in the first round, so that's something to wonder about. If the Panthers goalied anyone it was themselves in the regular season.
This team is real.
Game 7 (vs. BOS) via Daily Faceoff
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair
Nick Cousins - Sam Bennett - Matthew Tkachuk
Eetu Luostarinen - Anton Lundell - Sam Reinhart
Colin White - Eric Staal - Zac Dalpe
Gustav Forsling - Aaron Ekblad
Marc Staal - Brandon Montour
Josh Mahura - Radko Gudas
Alex Lyon - starter unknown
The Leafs held an optional skate today, and this was the result:
Matt Murray is practicing again, but he is not expected to actually play or be a backup immediately. Assuming the lines stay the way they were for the win in Game 6 of Round 1, this is how it should look:
Matthew Knies - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Calle Järnkrok - John Tavares - William Nylander
Michael Bunting - Ryan O'Reilly - Noel Acciari
Zach Aston-Reese - David Kämpf - Alex Kerfoot
Jake McCabe - TJ Brodie
Morgan Rielly - Luke Schenn
Mark Giordano - Timothy Liljegren
By having Matthew Tkachuk play on his own line with the very able Sam Bennett, the Panthers have created two lines that can score. Their offence isn't in question – as least not until you get to the skill of the shooter, but their defence manages to be about average on average. In the playoffs it's been as good as the Leafs, and considering the two teams the Leafs and the Panthers just played, it's equally impressive they are 5th and 6th of all playoff teams so far in Expected Goals Against.
They will hand the Leafs a lot of power plays, they will play so tight to the net, it will be like watching the Leafs from 2018, but they will also leave the back door open, leave themselves open to transition against.
Both goalies have been as good as they needed to be and no better for Florida, so this is a game and a series to be won by the skaters. And as much as I think Matthew Tkachuk is in the top echelon on NHL players, he's their only one. The Leafs should have the clear advantage on skill.
Let's see how this goes.
GO LEAFS GO!