In their biggest game of the year to date, the Toronto Maple Leafs stormed back from 3-1 down with a strong team effort top-to-bottom on Thursday night in Florida.

Your game in ten:

1.  This was a huge game by the Auston Matthews line. While it was pretty evenly distributed, they drew the majority of the Aleksander Barkov matchup at 5v5 and dominated the run of play there (84% CF, +1 GD). Matthews was flying and was a bull in possession as well as on the forecheck, throwing his weight around to recover pucks and taking over shifts consistently. You could see on Matthews and Hyman’s goal celebration after the 1-1 goal how intense and dialed into the game the pair were tonight.

Joel Quenneville kept Barkov’s group away from the Matthews line as much as he could because Florida’s big line was losing that matchup so convincingly; it should be noted Noel Acciari and his line had a big night against Matthews’ line, out-possessing them heavily (14-3 in shot attempts). But with a big piece of their blue line and a significant leadership presence forced out of the lineup due to injury, the Leafs needed their stars up front to step up, and Matthews led the way.

2.  Zach Hyman was a big part of the line’s success again tonight driving play with his usual impeccable work rate over 200 feet, and he was at the net front for three of the Leaf goals, one of which was his 20th of the season in just his 46th game. His ability to make plays off the rush and in transition is the next impressive development in the continued evolution of Hyman’s game — which is now of the calibre where he is a legitimate top-six forward outright, as opposed to more of a super-checker who can complement a scoring line.

It’s really remarkable to watch Hyman continue to play and produce like this year when you consider he missed camp and the first month of the season. That’s not supposed to be the way it works.

3.  This was an encouraging first game for Travis DermottJustin Holl in a tough situation on the road, while Rasmus Sandin and Tyson Barrie, a few rough early moments aside (including Barrie’s turnover and running prior to the 1-0 goal), settled in to the tune of an 80% CF on the night. The biggest factor was the team-defensive effort. The Leafs forwards were digging in deeper on their final few strides coming back, knuckling down in battles down low in the defensive zone, and provided good overall support for the defense core once the team settled into the game. The Leafs gave up three early because of a breakdown, an odd-man rush against, and Frederik Andersen’s 3-1 softie, but with their ability to cope with adversity and overall resiliency seriously in question, the response was excellent in the biggest game of the year to date.

4.  Here is a great example of the kind of support I’m referring to — with Florida ramping up their aggression on the forecheck in search of an equalizer, Auston Matthews swung low for a short bump-pass option down low that Justin Holl executed on nicely. The Leafs broke out as five, nearly scored, and then spent the better part of a minute in the offensive zone with the Barkov line on the ice in the final five minutes. Exhibit A in how to protect leads properly.

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Here is another good example of forward support for the D with Pierre Engvall tracking back and running legal interference to allow Rosen the time to get back and make a play on the puck. This led to another good o-zone shift.

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5.  I thought 7D made sense tonight to give the Leafs some on-the-fly options between Martin Marincin, Calle Rosen, and Timothy Liljegren as the coaching staff tried to stitch together a blue line corps sans Jake Muzzin, but now that Rosen is in the fold and has a game under his belt, I don’t see a reason why the Leafs should keep Liljgren up as they head back home following the short road trip. We could pore through his limited-sample numbers (they’re not good, and he was a dash-two in 5:21 tonight), but he’s playing so little in games, they’re basically irrelevant as he never has a chance to get into a groove at any point. Rosen is far better suited to playing sparingly as a #6 — not the 20-year-old defenseman who was making huge strides in his development in the AHL this year.

6.  There are so many little details and plays to appreciate about William Nylander’s game and skillset if you watch him closely on any given night. Watch how he spotted and then measured this pass to Alex Kerfoot to create the 2v1 situation Nylander nearly scored on early in the second period. The only reason the odd-man chance developed here is that he’s able to fit the pass in to Kerfoot so early. Nylander’s transition ability turns a loose puck situation in the d-zone into a grade-A chance at the other end.

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7.  Where has this Kasperi Kapanen been all year? It’s like a switch has flipped in his last five or so games in terms of his skating and confidence — he’s driving the D back consistently and putting lots of pucks at the net with 10 shots on goal, two goals, and four points in his last three games. Add in two fighting majors as the icing on top.

8.  I was also encouraged by how the Leafs responded to Noel Acciari taking the extra whack at Frederik Andersen early in the third period after the whistle. Jason Spezza immediately charged him and three Leafs were quickly on the scene. Kapanen also dropped the gloves earlier in the game, as mentioned. Kyle Clifford wasn’t involved in any of it. This is the kind of “team toughness” response you’re looking for. There are some positive signs here that the team is coming together after last week’s adversity as opposed to folding up its tent up and going home.

9.  We often analyze goaltending vs. team play or defensive play like they’re totally independent of one another — and I say this not to excuse Frederik Andersen’s inconsistent performances in the last month — but just as Andersen has done so many times for this team over the years, there is something to be said for a team stepping up and helping its starting goaltender work out of a funk. On too many nights this season, Andersen has been a little off early and the team has responded the wrong way, leaving him to get shelled. Not to mention all the times Andersen has been run without response.

The Leafs did a great job of protecting Andersen tonight, standing up for him after the whistle and defending well as a team throughout the final 40 minutes. Andersen then battled back with a huge save on Mike Hoffman in the last minute on a shot that was labeled for top-shelf if not for Andersen getting out aggressively and catching a piece of it with his shoulder.

10.  The challenge now: The team cannot congratulate itself on a great trip through Florida and let up whatsoever — even with the built-in excuse of the injuries, it has to be pedal to the metal the rest of the way with the margins still so tight (Florida is now four back but with a game in hand). You’re now looking at the standings and seeing “L4” in Tampa’s “current streak” column, as well as Florida’s recent form (4-6-0), and suddenly the outlook has changed dramatically in the space of just a few days. As we’ve seen multiple times this year, though, it can flip back the other way again just as quickly.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Florida Panthers


Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempt Locations

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Florida Panthers


Game Highlights: Leafs 5 vs. Panthers 3