Vincent Trocheck returned to action after missing 27 games with a broken ankle and set up Mike Matheson’s go-ahead goal with 5:01 remaining in the first period.
Trocheck logged 18:12 of ice time in his first game back and registered three shots on goal, dished out a game-high 7 hits, blocked a shot and finished with a +2 rating.
Josh Brown, in for the injured MacKenzie Weegar, made his NHL debut, He blocked a shot and provided another solid defensive presence out there in his 10:54 of ice time.
The Panthers limited the Maple Leafs, who looked a bit off after a tough win over Tampa Bay the night prior, to a scant 21 shots on goal during the game.
Toronto scored on its very first shot, one Roberto Luongo had little to no chance on, when defenseman Ron Hainsey smacked the puck through a two-man screen and just inside the left post 1:49 after opening puck drop. The assists on the goal went to Morgan Rielly and Kasperi Kapanen.
The Cats evened things up at the 9:02 mark when Mike Hoffman bagged his 23rd goal with a nifty deflection of Keith Yandle’s shot that went off the ice and bounced through the five-hole of goaltender Garrett Sparks.
Some nice forechecking work was done by Hoffman and rookie Henrik Borgstrom before Nick Bjugstad fed Yandle at the point.
The Panthers grabbed the lead when Trocheck took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau, faked a shot and then went back to Matheson at the point and he one-timed a rising shot that soared over Sparks’ shoulder.
The goalies ruled the rest of the way with Sparks totaling 26 saves on the night and Luongo coming up with a couple of big stops on veteran Patrick Marleau in short succession late in the second period.
Frank Vatrano finally gave the Cats some breathing room with a long range empty-net goal from Mark Pysyk with 1:49 remaining in regulation as the Panthers finally posted its first win of 2019.
With Vincent Trocheck back now and Nick Bjugstad also recently returned up front and the more defensive-minded Ian McCoshen and Josh Brown on the back end, maybe the Panthers have a lineup that can run off some wins. The Cats have fallen way behind in the wild card chase, so I don’t think anyone is expecting them to make any kind of playoff push at this point, but seeing more consistent, high-quality play and more wins like this one would sure be nice. Their first victory over the Leafs this season brought some warm and fuzzies with Trocheck’s return, Brown’s debut and Mike Matheson first goal in ages (20 games to be exact). It was nice to see Roberto Luongo bounce back with a quality start and a much-needed “W” that sent the large contingent of Buds fans to the parking lot grumbling.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)