A night 19 years in the making.
A goal, seconds from happening.
Auston Matthews began the Maple Leafs' first game of round two since the spring of 2004 by getting a breakaway at the start of the game, and coming inches from scoring the goal that would blow the roof off Scotiabank Arena.
The goal would come, just later.
The Maple Leafs would get a power play early in the game, with Sam Bennett elbowing David Kampf. The Leafs would get several chances to score, with the crowd being into every move the Leafs make. Oooh's and ahhh's as the puck moves around the Panthers end. No goals, plenty of close calls.
A quick minute or two after the power play before the Panthers get another call, this time it's Gustav Forsling tripping Zach Aston-Reese.
Another power play, more shots, more saves from Bobrovsky, more rebounds uncapitalized on. The Leafs are setting up well, getting shots off, but no one is in the right position to take advantage. They'll get it.
A player managed by Kyle Dubas opens the scoring, sadly that player played under Dubas as a Soo Greyhound. Nick Cousins opens the scoring of round two, and the Florida Panthers take an early lead, 1-0.
What makes me confident in this game is the Maple Leafs don't give up. The fans in the stands don't give up. "Go Leafs Go" is ringing through the crowd as the Leafs ring shots off the posts.
The speed that this game is being played at is blinding, it's hard to look away to write anything as the teams trade hits, shots, steals, turnovers. It's all happening all over the ice. Even the linesmen can't look away.
Ilya Samsonov is forced to make two amazing saves within seconds of each other and the crowd is chanting "Sammy! Sammy!" Samonov is making the saves needed, and the Leafs know he has their back.
As we enter the final minute of the first period. Mark Giordano gets called for hooking Matthew Tkachuk. There's some discussion about whether it's actually Mark Giordano or not, Keefe and the ref have a talk, but we stick with #55 in the box.
The penalty kill goes on the attack and as they try to set up Mitch Marner skate sup and poke checks the puck out of the Leafs zone, and skates down the ice after it. This wastes plenty of time on the power play and by the time the Panthers regroup into formation the horn goes.
After one period the Panthers are up 1-0.
The Maple Leafs begin the second period on the penalty kill, but keep the Panthers from scoring.
The crowd is settling down a little. Some chants break out, but not as strong as they were in the first. The Leafs nerves are kicking in. 20 minutes gone without a goal. Down by one.
The fast play continues, with the puck racing around the ice, and the players following just as quick. Sometimes it's hard to follow the play, and the players are also getting caught up in the speed.
The Maple Leafs ice the puck, and that means a face off in our their own end. The Panthers get control of the puck and Aaron Ekblad shoots from the point, and it deflects off Sam Bennett and the Panthers go up 2-0.
It doesn't last long as Matthew Knies scores the first NHL goal of his career, in the Maple Leafs first second round series of his life. A crazy spin, loses the puck, and digs it in backhanded. Amazing goal and gets the crowd back on it's feet and heavily into this game.
If Knies scoring his first goal isn't enough, Michael Bunting DRAWS a penalty. That's right, he got his suspension so he gets the benefit of the doubt again.
Josh Mahura is called for high sticking.
On this power play Mitch Marner is owning the penalty kill, stickhandling all over the Panthers zone to set up the play, but Bobrovsky is on top of things. He's making saves, and catching rebounds. Leafs aren't scoring because of blocked shots and broken sticks. No PP goal, once again.
No goal, but hey want to see Tkachuk get bulldozed by Luke Schenn? Sure you do.
William Nylander kinda forgot what he was supposed to do once he gets into the Panthers zone.
Michael Bunting, does not. Tie game. Crowd explodes. Five minutes left in the second.
Morgan Rielly saw that hit on Schenn and wanted in, so he lined up Eric Staal and gave it his all.
The counter ticks down, we near the end of the period so here comes the opponent goal! Former Maple Leaf prospect Carter Verhaeghe scores to get the lead back for the Panthers.
3-2 at the end of the second.
William Nylander is not having a good game. As we saw above, he just plain forgot what to do. He's having these moments all night. He's not alone but it's just more noticeable, somehow. Marner isn't too hot either. Tavares is shooting wide.
The Leafs are only down by one but that feeling is creeping in, deeper and deeper as we get through the third period.
When they do get shots that make it to the net. Sergei Bobrovsky is playing like the goalie who earned his mega contract.
Thankfully it's not all doom and gloom. Leafs are getting shots. Ilya Samsonov is making the saves we need. The Leafs are throwing hits.
They aren't the biggest team in the playoffs. They aren't the scariest. But thinking back to everything Brian Burke said he wanted his Leafs to be, I think they've become that.
Truculent and talented. Hitters and scorers. Score two more and take the game.
Halfway through the third period the games almost even. Leafs have a slight edge in shots. Panthers seem to be controlling a bit more of the play.
Chants are getting sparse now. The crowd isn't perking up as much as they were.
Jake McCabe tackles Matthew Tkachuk, with the delayed penalty Bobrovsky heads to the bench. Six on five gives the Panthers the offense they need to double their lead. Brandon Montour makes it 4-2.
Marc Staal makes contact with Samsonov. There's an option to challenge but the Leafs bench doesn't.
Neither gives up on getting another goal, both goalies have to stay on top of their game.
With just over two minutes to go the Leafs pull the goalie. They need to score two goals a minute. Not impossible, but a tall order.
Bunting and Nylander team up to almost score, so close. Then a post gets hit. The crowd roars in disappointment. The Leafs call a time out.
John Tavares sets himself up in front of the net. Bobrovsky loses his stick. Ryan O'Rielly gets high-sticked in front of the net and cut open next to his eye. No call. NHL refereeing!
The high stick happened feet away from referee number 14. The officials gather away from the players to discuss about a double minor for high sticking. The correct call, shockingly, is made. Sam Bennett gets four minutes.
The Maple Leafs are 0 for 3 on the power play tonight. The have 40 seconds to get two goals. They think they scored right away. All the Leafs point at the goal. It doesn't cross the line.
No luck once again on the power play. The Panthers win game one 4-2.
There isn't a lot to fix for game two. Tighten up the defense. Don't chase as much. Keep laying the hits, but make sure you don't lose the play because of them. The Maple Leafs were blown out 7-3 in game one against Tampa. No one predicted a sweep in this series, so they had to lose one or two.
I still have the optimism I came into this game with. I hope you do to.
Leafs in five. Game two is Thursday at 7PM.
Go Leafs Go.