The Toronto Maple Leafs continued their run of great play, but this time actually put the puck in behind their opponent, as they put up seven on the Florida Panthers in a 7-3 win that turned into a 7-5 scoreline in garbage time. Yes, I’m sticking to my guns on this. In game 76, this was essentially game one of a pseudo seven-game series to end the season. Hopefully the Leafs can use this as practice for the inevitable fight against the Boston Bruins.
John Tavares took charge of the offense in this game, putting up four goals on five shots in 19 minutes of play. Mitchell Marner put up three assists in a supporting effort, while William Nylander and Morgan Rielly each had two assists of their own. It was also a milestone night, as Zach Hyman scored his 20th goal, the first of his career. Rielly also got his 69th and 70th points on the season. He now shares the spotlight with Tomas Kaberle as the only defenseman since the Borje Salming era to put up 50 assists in one season.
John Tavares has established a new single-game career-high with four goals tonight. #LeafsForever— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) March 26, 2019
Within the first two minutes, the Leafs took advantage of a defensive breakdown when the Panthers threw too many guys forward. Kasperi Kapanen carried the puck from the defensive zone into the offensive zone before handing the puck over to Nazem Kadri. As he went to the front of the net, Kadri found Patrick Marleau with a brilliant pass and the old man buried his 16th goal of the season.
The third line had been really unproductive for the Maple Leafs in recent games. The three players combined for two goals and nine assists in those games (Kadri: 4a, Kapanen: 1g, 3a, Marleau: 1g, 2a), but right off the bat, the trio that will likely get the easiest matchups in four of hopefully seven games against the Bruins all combined for a very convincing goal.
Jake Muzzin kept the pace up with a goal of his own about two more minutes later, his ninth of the season. The real breakdown for the Panthers came when Nikita Zaitsev pinched down along the boards and won the puck away from the Panthers who were attempting a rush. Andreas Johnsson was covering the point and was able to grab the puck and throw it to a lonely Muzzin on the other side of the ice.
And on that goal, Samuel Montembeault got pulled for Roberto Luongo just 4:21 on the ice. After giving up eight goals on 42 shots dating back to Saturday against the Boston Bruins — which is equivalent to a .809 save percentage — it’s not a surprise this was the quickest goalie pull in Leafs history. In other news, I’m super glad the Leafs have Michael Hutchinson.
Josh Brown, who is apparently a real player, took a slashing penalty midway through the period and the Leafs promptly capitalized with the man-advantage. Auston Matthews took a shot from his usual spot at the faceoff dot and John Tavares tipped the puck in for the first goal of his hat-trick night. This was Tavares’ ninth power play goal this season, which is only two behind James van Riemsdyk’s 11 from the season previous. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that he surpasses that total and Kadri’s team-leading 12 ppgs from last season. Also, JVR had 36 goals last year while Tavares ended up with 45 by the end of the night.
Jayce Hawryluk beat Hainsey to the net off a rush and tipped the puck through Freddy Andersen’s pads to put the Panthers on the board late in the first period. Mike Hoffman carried the puck down the length of the ice and shot the puck for the tip. Thanks a lot, Ottawa.
At the end of a shift, William Nylander got the puck from Andreas Johnsson before he pealed to the bench. Nylander circled the offensive zone before finding Zach Hyman join the play. Hyman burst diagonally across the middle of the ice and fed Tavares in front of the net for his second goal of the night, restoring the three-goal lead less than two minutes after giving it up.
The Panthers got one back near the end of the period when Mike Matheson took a shot from the point that got through several bodies in front and Freddy. Credit to Vincent Trocheck for his work along the boards against Zaitsev and Tavares to get the puck to the point, he got a primary assist for his efforts.
It was a great period offensively for the Leafs, but they gave up a little too much at the other end. At 5v5, the Leafs were ahead in shot attempts (22-19), shots (14-9), and scoring chances (12-11).
The #Leafs are on pace for the second-most 5v5 shot attempts (66) and most 5v5 shots (42) this season.— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) March 25, 2019
Hat trick alert! Tavares got his third of the night on a great play by Morgan Rielly off the rush. Rielly’s centering pass was his 49th of the season, and 69th point. Nylander got his second secondary assist on this play after carrying the puck out of the defensive zone en route to a line change.
Troy Brouwer ran into Freddy Andersen causing a pause in the play. Andersen looked okay to continue, and the Leafs courteously proceeded to spend the next few minutes in the offensive zone to help ease the pressure, so hopefully all is good moving forward.
Smooth pic.twitter.com/t2KhBPXIZi— Flintor (@TheFlintor) March 26, 2019
The Leafs didn’t let up offensively at all in the second period. They once again had over a shot attempt per minute with 18 in just over 15 5v5 minutes. Unfortunately, the Panthers kept right up with them, keeping the differentials relatively close. After two, the shot attempts were (18-17), shots were in favour of Florida (9-10), while the Leafs had the edge in scoring chances (10-7).
At this point the game was just getting silly as Tavares scored his fourth goal of the game, matching some guy named Auston Matthews who also had four goals in a game recently. Tavares is also now the 16th Leaf since 1967 expansion to score four goals or more. Only three have five or more, including Darryl Sittler, who has six. Marner and Hyman drew the assists on this particular tally. Surprisingly, this was only the fourth time those three combined for a goal, Rielly has been getting a lot of those assists, breaking up the trio.
John Tavares is the eighth player to score four goals in a game this season and just the fourth @MapleLeafs player to do so in the last 20 years. #NHLStats #FLAvsTOR https://t.co/UFP1tLiofh pic.twitter.com/dfi2PPWyTA— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 26, 2019
Jonathan Huberdeau scored a few minutes later when he batted the puck in right at the side of the net off an Aleksander Barkov shot off the rush. Zaitsev smashed his stick on the post, unhappy with how his team was unable to contain the only players worth caring about on the Panthers.
Zach “Stone hands” Hyman put up his 20th goal of the season off a great stickhandling play in front of the net. Rielly got the primary assist on this goal, his 50th assist and 70th point of the season.
At this point, the Leafs somewhat turned it off and attempted to cruise for the last 10 minutes of the game. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with a four-goal lead?
Err, Huberdeau scored his second on the power play with Marleau in the box for hooking. It was a frankly beautiful goal off the post and in for his 25th of the season.
Oh my god, please don’t. After a brief skirmish between several players that resulted in a Panthers power play, Jayce Hawryluk scored his second goal of the game and seventh of the season. With more than two minutes left, could the Leafs not do stuff like this? It’s really not good for my mental health.