The slightly retooled Florida Panthers got off to a strong start, scoring three times in the first 12:36 of the game to dazzle its portion of fans in the crowd at the BB&T Center, before fading away in a potentially devastating 5-3 home ice loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Mark Pysyk came off the bench to receive and finish a heads-up crossing pass from Aaron Ekblad after Frederik Andersen made a pad stop on Keith Yandle’s drive from the point 2:23 into the action.
After Anton Stralman’s soft defense allowed pesky Zach Hyman to gain inside position in front to tie the game 1:09 later, Mike Hoffman and Noel Acciari scored 5:11 apart to raise hopes for another January 4th-style beatdown of the Maple Leafs.
Erik Haula collected his first point as a Panther when he sent Frank Vatrano away into the Toronto zone. Andersen denied Vatrano’s low shot, but yielded another juicy rebound that ended up right on Hoffman’s stick and he easily put it home for his 26th of the season.
Yandle picked up his second point of the period when he snapped a blue line to blue line pass to Acciari, who worked his way into the right circle before putting a shot off the far post and in to hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career.
The good times lasted until the 17:43 mark of the opening frame. That’s when Kasperi Kapenen took a cross-ice pass from Jason Spezza and slide a stoppable wrist shot by Sergei Bobrovsky from the right circle one second after a frustrating too many men on the ice expired
Auston Matthews followed that up with 44th goal 1:15 later and all the sudden the game was tied. Matthews tracked down his own dump-in behind the net, outworked MacKenzie Weegar for the puck and threw it in front to Mitch Marner, who passed it off to Hyman, who went back the other way to a an unmarked Matthews, who deposited the biscuit into the wide-open net.
The rattled Panthers were out-shot 14-4 as the Buds dominated play in the second period. Only a rock-solid 20 minutes from Bobrovsky kept the Cats from falling behind.
Toronto finally forged ahead nine minutes into the final frame when William Nylander claimed a loose puck in front and spun around and shot it in after Bobrovsky initially stopped Kyle Clifford while the Pathers were scrambling around, failing to clear the zone. Martin Marincin made a real nice play at the blue line to just beat Vatrano to the puck and got it down low allowing his teammates to eventually come up with what turned out to be the decisive goal.
Andersen would shut the door the rest off the way, making two big stops on Hoffman in the final minute of a 14-save period before Justin Holl clinched it with empty-net goal from long range.
Florida fell yet again after failing to hit the four-goal mark, which is the fine line between success and failure for this flawed club. After scoring three times on their first six shots, the Panthers couldn’t solve Andersen and the depleted Maple Leafs defense the rest of the way with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau each generating one shot on goal in the biggest game of the season - unacceptable. A too many men on the ice penalty late in the first period to help turn the tide with a two-goal lead - unacceptable. Couple that with the usual lapses in the defensive zone and another spotty performance from Bobrovsky and it all adds up to a another defeat, this one as bitter as the Canadian winter.
The Panthers still have a game in hand on Toronto, which got its act together enough to sweep both Florida teams after the trade deadline, but are now four points behind the Maple Leafs. With Chicago and Calgary in town this weekend, the Cats need to come up with a sweep of their own to help them stay in the playoff race.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)
Rakes & Bags
- Two players who surprisingly played well last night were Keith Yandle and Mike Matheson. Both finished the game with a +2 rating, each was tagged with only one giveaway, and Yandle had two assists, giving him 40 on the season.
- In addition to their goals, Auston Matthews, Zach Hyman and Justin Holl also picked up assists to finish with two points. Other Buds with helpers not mentioned above were Alexander Kerfoot and John Tavares.
- Loser Sergei Bobrovsky and winner Frederik Andersen each finished the game with 24 saves.
- Hybird Mark Pysyk upped his career-high in goals to nine. Four of those goals have come against the Maple Leafs.
- Mike Hoffman extended his point-streak to six games while Aleksander Barkov saw his five-game binge come to an end.
- For more on Toronto’s first win of 2019-20 over the Panthers, get your strings pulled at Pension Plan Puppets.