In a game best summed up by Bob Cole’s classic call, a valiant Maple Leafs comeback was completed by the OT heroics of William Nylander in a 5-4 extra-time victory over the Florida Panthers.

This game featured fights, a goalie change, a penalty shot, a goal review, a controversial charging penalty, a strange penalty reversal, and much, much more. It was wacky, emotional, and highly competitive, but the Leafs picked up a much-needed win to end their two-game losing skid.

Your game in 10:

1.   This game got off to a sleepy start for the Leafs, who were slow out of the gate and ceded the game’s opening goal just 112 seconds into the contest.

After Florida dumped the puck in, Mitch Marner went to retrieve and lost track of the puck in the corner as it appeared to make contact with an official. That gave the Panthers a window to recover the puck, and Carter Verhaeghe quickly picked it up in the circle as Marner stopped playing for a second along the end boards. Verhaeghe peered in on Matt Murray and picked the top corner high glove side:

It was a great shot from a former Leafs draftee that targeted a known area of weakness for Murray.

Perhaps more concerning was the fact that this was the second quality chance the Leafs surrendered under the pressure of Florida’s offensive zone forecheck in just under two minutes to start the game.

2.    It didn’t take long for the Leafs to level the score.

Zach Aston-Reese flipped the puck ahead to an activating Morgan Rielly, who led the rush and slowed up to draw pressure from Radko Gudas. Rielly then fired the pass toward the back post, where Dryden Hunt gained a step on his man and got a friendly deflection off of his foot:

Your author has been pretty critical of Hunt’s time with the Leafs and has advocated for the team to explore other options on the fourth line, but this was Hunt’s best game in Toronto so far. He only logged 5:45 TOI at 5v5, but the unblocked shot attempts were 9-4 and high-danger chances were 4-0 in favor of the Leafs in Hunt’s ice time tonight.

I don’t think this performance changes my argument that the Leafs should explore what an Adam Gaudette could do in Hunt’s place, but let’s give credit where it’s due for Hunt’s contributions to a good night for the Leafs’ fourth line.

3.    The first period eventually evolved into a penalty parade. Florida was called for four minor penalties in the first period to the Leafs’ one. It stunted the ability to evaluate 5v5 play properly, but it did bring special teams into focus.

In particular, the five-forward PP unit was trotted back out there by Sheldon Keefe’s team, but it didn’t find much traction. Auston Matthews fired a couple of blasts that were turned aside by Sergei Bobrovsky, and the first unit gave one back to Florida on a play Mitch Marner will want to forget:

First, Marner mishandled the puck at the blue line, and then he made it worse by not backchecking at full steam. William Nylander applied back-pressure to Alexander Barkov and Matt Murray made the initial stop, but with Marner not on his horse coming back, no one was there to check Anton Lundell when Murray left the rebound on the doorstep.

The second PP unit did show up in the first period while the first unit was scuffling. They set up Bobby McMann with a great look on the second PP opportunity that Bobrovsky turned aside before cashing in later on.

After a shot by Calle Järnkrok popped off Bobrovsky and down, Alex Kerfoot kicked it to his backhand before flipping it by the goalie for the equalizer:

Not many of us would’ve predicted Kerfoot and Hunt as the first two Toronto goal-scorers, but this was not your ordinary game.

4.    A stretch lasting nearly four minutes from the end of the first period to the start of the second proved to be the end of Matt Murray‘s night in the Leaf net.

Through the first 18 minutes, Murray was okay. He had no chance on the second Panther goal, and he was unable to come up with a high-danger save on the first goal. Goals #3 and 4 were much more problematic, though.

The first came in the waning moments of the opening period off of a slapshot from Panther D Josh Mahura from the far boards:

Murray was not screened here, and while the shot is nicely placed — again, high glove-side just below the bar — he has to come up with the save on a shot from that far out with a clear line of sight.

The same could be of the power-play goal that the Panthers scored early in the second:

This one beat him blocker side instead. Yes, it’s tucked inside the bar by an excellent shooter in Sascha Barkov, but the Leafs needed saves and Murray wasn’t coming up with them. Sheldon Keefe yanked Murray after four goals on eight shots.

Murray managed three pretty strong outings in between his last clunker against Seattle, and it is worth noting that this was Murray’s third start in four games. He might’ve been edging his way toward primary-starter status, but the outcome (and Ilya Samsonov‘s performance in relief) suggests the rotation will remain just as active as the 2022 portion of the schedule for the time being.

5.    The second period lumbered along after the goalie change, with the Leafs largely controlling play only to have their momentum interrupted by more penalties and growing physicality.

The Leafs and Panthers each went to two more power-play opportunities in the period, and the boo birds briefly came out when the Leafs’ top unit continually failed to find their rhythm.

And then there was the rough stuff. Ryan Lomberg and Justin Holl were mixing it up, and all hell broke loose after a scuffle between Auston Matthews and Nick Cousins, which sprung Michael Bunting into action:

That skirmish created some 4v4 time before the antics continued courtesy of who else but Radko Gudas. Pierre Engvall entered the zone and was met with a bruising hip check by the Panthers defenseman, leading Zach Aston-Reese to drop the gloves in defense of his teammate:

ZAR ended up in the box and the Leafs were shorthanded, but I have no problem with the penalty here. Gudas was out for blood in this game, and the Leafs answering the bell is what a proper team ought to do.

Once ZAR got out of the box, he went on a rush chance down the wing and encountered Gudas again. Gudas came flying back and crushed Aston-Reese right into both the goalpost and Bobrovsky.

He was hit with a charging call on the play — which the Panthers contingent vociferously disagreed with — but it gave the Leafs’ top unit what was nominally their eighth opportunity of the game.

6.    On the ensuing PP, which was slated to have carry-over time to the third period, the Leafs’ scored with, A) their first unit on the ice, and B) just before the period was up. It felt like a big turning point in the game.

Mitch Marner slid the pass down low to William Nylander, who curled around on the goal line and slipped a pass into the circle for Auston Matthews, who ripped it by Bobrovsky into the top corner:

After taking a couple of games off to nurse his mysterious nagging injury, Matthews has two goals in as many games. I can’t say he looks fully back to his 2021-22 form yet, but it’s a great sign that the shot is hitting the target again.

7.    The early third period was all about William Nylander, who made a bunch of things happen.

Less than a minute into the period, he went a mini-break and was hauled down from behind for a penalty shot. Nylander executed his patented forehand-backhand move and had Bobrovsky beaten, but he sailed the shot over the cross-bar.

It didn’t deter #88, who proved only a few minutes later that he wouldn’t need his stick to break the goal-scoring drought:

The goal came directly off an offensive zone faceoff following an icing, one in which Sheldon Keefe deployed a loaded-up 88-34-16 line combination. We haven’t seen it used much recently, but it came up with a big moment tonight.

8.     The Leafs were definitely the better team at 5v5 in the third period, owning high-danger chances 6-2 and shot attempts 18-12, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t opportunities for the Panthers.

Florida’s two high-danger chances were certainly memorable. One was a breakaway for Carter Verhaeghe that Ilya Samsonov made a massive save on:

Samsonov was excellent after Murray’s exit, saving all 11 shots he faced. He was matched in the third period by his countryman at the other end, Sergei Bobrovsky, who shut down several prime scoring opportunities for the Leafs to keep the game tied.

It was exciting, fast-paced, eminently watchable hockey that showcased the best that the NHL has to offer: Great skill, plenty of physicality, good goaltending, and a tight scoreline.

The 82-game season can feel like a grind at times even for the most hardcore of fans, but games like tonight remind us why we all tune in for a mid-week game in January.

9.    Before we cover the overtime, let’s talk about a few performances that stood out from the Leafs’ perspective.

There has been much consternation about Morgan Rielly‘s recent play and defensive pairing with TJ Brodie out of the lineup. Partnerships with Justin Holl and Conor Timmins clearly didn’t work out, so Keefe dialed up Rielly-Liljegren tonight — with much better results.

The Leafs were the better team tonight when those two were on the ice, and with Rielly creating the opening goal, it was good to see him get some confidence back. If nothing else, it speaks to how good of a defenseman Liljegren already is (and is continuing to become) that he is currently the only RD option on the team who can elevate Rielly and complement his style of play outside of Brodie. There is no chance Liljegren will be missing from the team’s playoff lineup this spring.

Up front, this was a good night for the bottom six. I already praised Dryden Hunt, but the rest of the bottom six was strong as well. Two permutations of David Kämpf and Pierre Engvall — one with Bobby McMann and one with Zach Aston-Reese — combined to play 9:16 at 5v5 tonight, and they both decisively titled the ice in terms of scoring chances and expected goals.

McMann returned to the lineup and continued to flash a little bit of speed and a little bit of size. He popped up with a scoring chance here and there and also threw his body around with a hit on Sam Reinhart in the third period.

The Leafs’ top six was getting battered for much of the first two periods in terms of the overall balance of play, but the bottom six made up for it and created their best looks.

That set the stage for the stars to finally get going.

10.    After losing late in regulation in Boston, it felt like the Leafs needed to make sure they secured the point tonight, especially with Tampa on such a hot streak. That said, I didn’t feel fantastic about the prospect of facing Florida at 3v3.

The Panthers aren’t the same OT sorcerers from 2021-22, but they still have tremendous skating talent on the roster. Florida was also able to generate more rush chances in regulation (and shorthanded) than we often see the Leafs concede in a given game.

However, Toronto managed to own possession in OT, winning the opening draw via David Kampf and rarely letting the Panthers touch the puck. Not much really happened in OT before William Nylander picked the puck up in his own zone and watched as his teammates went for a change. Rather than making a quick pass going to join them, he found an extra wind to go win the game himself:

Nylander surveyed the ice, identified the opportunity to gain a step on the Florida skaters, and simply turned on the jets. Verhaeghe gave him the slightest window, and Nylander barged through it.

Everything else about the play was pure speed and skill. Nylander’s second goal left him with three points on the night, and he now has 24 goals and 26 assists for 50 points. That leaves #88 on pace for 44 goals, 47 assists, and 91 points across 82 games, all of which would be career highs. A tremendous hockey player.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts