Two points closer to home-ice advantage in round one.
After their loss to the Islanders, the Leafs came up with a good response game led by their star players and Matt Murray, who put up 34 saves and had the type of game you want to see from him at this point in the season.
Your game in 10:
1. It was a sleepy first shift for the Leafs. Auston Matthews started the game with an empty-calorie shift before the John Tavares line went out with William Nylander and Michael Bunting, and they gave up an early opportunity as Carter Verhaeghe got off two shots in the high-slot area.
A shift later, Eric Staal tripped up Jake McCabe and the Leafs got an early power play, where they produced a few chances.
It seemed to settle them down as they controlled the puck and had a few shots on net, spending the majority of the time in the Panthers’ end. They didn’t score on it, but it built some momentum.
A few shifts after the power play ended, Matthews gained the zone, sent a nice cross-ice pass to Mark Giordano — who ripped it wide — and then Mitch Marner picked up that missed shot off the wall, found Matthews up high, and scored the type of goal we are accustomed to seeing him score.
With a little time and space, Matthews took the pass on his forehand, cradled it, and ripped it through traffic into the net. The traffic came courtesy of Calle Jarnkrok crashing the net and battling Marc Staal in front.
It set the table for Jarnkrok for the rest of the night as he was constantly in the trenches, winning battles, causing chaos in front of the net, and getting his sweater dirty.
2. Shortly after the Leafs scored, the Panthers crashed the net themselves, but Matthew Tkachuk interfered with Matt Murray and their goal was called back. It was the right call, and the Panthers put up zero argument.
It was a bit of a sign of things to come from the Panthers. All night, they were chippy, with all sorts of runs being taken and Florida trying to get after the Leafs physically. That included the first period ending with Tkachuk going after TJ Brodie after Brodie slashed his stick out of his hands (following a hit from Tkachuk).
Gadko Gudas tried lining up Sam Lafferty. Alex Kerfoot got run over. The Leafs battled through it for the most part, but for all the talk about adding grit and physicality, they didn’t exactly push back physically.
3. The Leafs’ penalty kill has been fairly mediocre in the month of March as they’ve killed off 78.1 percent of their penalties so far, which ranks 17th. The woes continued in this one as the Panthers got a power play down one and scored a minute in.
It was a fairly unassuming play as Florida won the faceoff and passed the puck across the blue line up top before Brandon Montour ripped a pass cross ice to the backdoor to Matthew Tkachuk. It was just a little too easy to go right through the house with that pass, and while at first, it looked like Matt Murray made an amazing save, upon further review, it was close. I thought it was a goal and the right call.
4. I didn’t like the way the Leafs started the game, but an early power play settled them down and then they scored. The second period was a different story.
They came out buzzing and pretty well instantly tilted the ice on Florida, which started with the line of Alex Kerfoot – Auston Matthews – Calle Jarnkrok. A few shifts later, the Leafs had an offensive-zone draw, and it was an interesting play — William Nylander lined up on his off-wing, on the inside hashmark with the faceoff on the right side facing the goalie, John Tavares scrummed the faceoff, and Nylander looped from the inside to the wall (we usually see teams try the opposite with a guy going from the wall to the inside to get a shot).
He then chipped it down low to Tavares, who went to work doing what he does best: being heavy, winning a battle, and getting the puck to the net. It ended up on the other side of the net, where Nylander batted it in. That assist puts Tavares at 70+ points for the seventh time in his career.
5. The Leafs kept pouring it on from there.
David Kampf had a scoring chance, and off another offensive zone faceoff barely a minute and a half later, the puck went d-to-d and Mark Giordano snapped a nice pass to Auston Matthews, who was below the goal line. #34 came out with the puck on his forehand side with all the time and space to turn and shoot because — once again — Calle Jarnkrok was battling hard in front, tying up defenders, and making life difficult around the crease.
On the shot that led to the offensive zone faceoff, Brandon Montour got a little chippy with Matthews, who took exception and exchanged some words with him. Matthews then won the faceoff, got the puck back, and scored.
Don’t look now, but Matthews is up to six goals and 12 points in his past eight games. He is starting to turn it up with April around the corner.
6. After the Leafs built a lead, the Panthers promptly got one back with the type of five-man unit that makes me pause about running 11-7. It was a line of Zach Aston-Reese – David Kampf – John Tavares, along with Luke Schenn and Timothy Liljegren on defense. It was really a nothing play, but the puck went up the right wall, where Tavares was apparently playing right wing and struggled to make a play on the wall on his off-wing in the defensive zone.
Liljegren backed up on the play, and when the puck squirted out he was too far away to close the gap while Schenn was stuck in no man’s land after battling Tkachuk in front of the net.
It was a nice backhand shot, but it was the type of goal that you look at and wonder how those five guys were on the ice together.
7. It finally happened in game #71. The Leafs had their first 5v3 power play.
It was so foreign to them that they called a timeout (this is half a joke). When they came out, it was interesting that the Leafs straight-up attacked off the rush. William Nylander dished a little give-and-go play and drove the lane for a through pass that he received, giving the Leafs a mini 2v1. He then saucered a backhand pass to John Tavares, who hit the post, collected the rebound, then centered the puck to Michael Bunting. #58 was wide open while Bobrovsky didn’t have his stick — still scrambling from the 2v1 — and he one-timed it in pretty easily.
The Leafs went with five forwards on the power play, and despite Bunting’s demotion lately, he was still one of the five out there and made good on his opportunity.
8. The Panthers came out in the third and made an early push to try to cut the Leafs’ lead in half. They had a number of shifts where they hemmed the Leafs in pressuring them with their forecheck, creating turnovers, and tilting the ice.
Justin Holl made a few pass breakups, including blocking a backdoor pass attempt and a shot attempt from around the faceoff dot. It kind of made you think of Ryan O’Reilly‘s absence. The Leafs couldn’t break up the attack compared to the game against Calgary, where the Leafs shut them down the entire third period and Sheldon Keefe singled ROR out specifically, calling his third period a “clinic.”
Eventually, there was a shift where Mitch Marner got interfered with by Nick Cousins, who hit him into Michael Bunting, and it seemed to piss the Leafs off a bit. They started to string together a few good shifts and calmed the game down.
9. This was a game of ending droughts. The Leafs got a 5v3 and Alex Kerfoot scored in the same game. The 24-game goalless drought is over.
Funny enough, the last team he scored against was also the Florida Panthers. They actually panned to the bench after he scored, and Keefe was quite literally patting him on the back.
This was a really nice play by John Tavares, who protected the puck going wide against Marc Staal (who the Leafs worked all night; he was -3 in the game) before centering a pass to Kerfoot, who might have actually fanned on it but the puck still went in.
I’m sure it’s a weight lifted off his shoulders. Great time to get the monkey off his back.
10. Down 5-2, the Panthers got a power play and decided to pull the goalie with over five minutes left. After a bad pass to the half-wall, Mitch Marner pounced on it and raced up ice for a rush where he tried to set up David Kampf for the goal. At 5-2, I thought it was a nice gesture. Kampf is a pending UFA.
His shot was blocked, and Marner grabbed the puck and put it in himself. After scoring, Verhaeghe just seemed to put his arm out to block contact from happening, but Marner appeared to interpret it as a shove and had some words for him.
The game was done, and while there was a moment where Auston Matthews appeared to be hurt, it was just a stinger from a shot that hit him in the groin.