The Florida Panthers playoff chances took a blow in Toronto as the Maple Leafs jumped out to a three-goal lead and held on for a hard-fought 4-3 win in front of an over-capacity crowd of 18,893 at Air Canada Centre.
Toronto got off to a quick start, opening the scoring just 3:05 in when Mitch Marner wristed the puck wide of the net and the carom fortuitously came back to him in the right circle. Marner would make no mistake the second time around, hammering a slapper by Roberto Luongo for his 21st goal, with the assists going to Morgan Rielly and Tomas Plekanec. The marker extended Marner’s point streak to ten games.
Auston Matthews beat Luongo from the between the circles for his 30th goal to cap off a 4-on-2 rush 6:19 later. William Nylander loosened the puck from Keith Yandle in his own zone and then took an outlet pass from Jake Gardiner before eventually finding Matthews in the other end.
Marner picked up his second point of the period with a nice individual effort that saw him curl out of the left corner and higher into the offensive zone before passing back the other way to Patrick Marleau, who converted from right in front at the 13:55 mark.
Jonathan Huberdeau stemmed the tide and ended a seven-game goalless drought when he ripped a wrister off the post and in with 2:11 left in the frame. Denis Malgin earned the lone assist for stealing the puck away from Zach Hyman and feeding Huberdeau.
After getting robbed by Frederik Andersen on an early second period power play, Huberdeau got another goal when he picked the short-side top corner at 15:08. Vincent Trocheck set up Huberdeau in the right circle with a nice pass. The second helper went to defenseman Mark Pysyk.
The Panthers turned up the heat in the third, but it was the Maple Leafs who got the next goal when a falling James van Riemsdyk knocked his own rebound in after Luongo robbed him on the initial chance. Tyler Bozak made a nice play from behind the net to get the puck to van Riemsdyk on the doorstep and Connor Brown picked up the secondary helper on the eventual game-winner.
Evgenii Dadonov gave the Panthers a glimmer of hope when poked the rebound of Yandle’s one-timer past Andersen to halve the deficit with 1:26 left on the clock and Luongo on the bench for an extra attacker. Aaron Ekblad drew the second assist for teeing up Yandle.
The Panthers would fail to come up with the equalizer and the tough loss in TO leaves the club with little margin for error if they want to make the postseason. Florida still trails New Jersey by three points with a game in hand, but unless the Devils go into a slump, the Cats are likely looking at a scenario where they will need to win five or maybe even six of their last seven. A tough task when three of those games are against Boston and one is versus Nashville.
Full Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)
Rakes & Bags
- The Maple Leafs set franchise records with their 46th win and 27th home win of the season.
- James van Riemsdyk’s game-winner was the 200th goal of his NHL career. A nice way to hit a milestone, eh?
- Twenty-five was a number that was in serious play last night. Patrick Marleau’s goal was hs 25th, as was Evgenii Dadonov’s. Jonathan Huberdeau also hit that mark with his brace.
- Speaking of Huberdeau, he led all skaters with eight shots on goal.
- Frederik Andersen made 30 saves and set a new career-high with his 36th win of the season. He tied a Leafs record with his 22nd home win.
- Roberto Luongo stopped 31 shots and has now lost four of his last five starts.
- Pension Plan Puppets has the other side of the fourth and final game of what was a tremendously exciting season series.
Condensed Game (courtesy of NHL.com)