With captain and number one center Aleksander Barkov out for the night, Mark Pysyk, a defenseman turned forward, stepped up and had the game of his life with three goals to spark to the Florida Panthers to a 5-3 come from behind win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the center of the hockey universe.
The two teams are tied with 63 points, but the Panthers have played two less games giving them the coveted three spot in the Atlantic Division, at least until Wednesday night.
Pysyk opened the scoring when he was left unmarked in front and smacked in Mike Matheson’s backhand pass at 11:30 of the first period with the second assist going to Denis Malgin.
With Michael Hutchinson coming on at the start of the second to replace the banged up Frederik Andersen, the Maple Leafs would forge ahead on goals from John Taraves, a nifty power-play goal that showed off some serious hand/eye coordination, and William Nylander. Nylander’s was left alone in front and gave the Buds the lead with 55 seconds left in the frame right after Jayce Hawryluk’s slashing penalty expired.
The Panthers would again fail to protect the middle of the ice and Auston Matthews took advantage to finish off a Toronto rush 38 seconds into the third period to give the Buds a two-goal advantage.
Florida didn’t panic and quickly got one of the goals back when Pysyk was able to stab Hutchinson’s attempted clear of the rebound of a Matheson shot and shovel it home at the 2:20 mark. Josh Brown drew the secondary assist, giving three helpers in his last five games.
Evgenii Dadonov tipped Mike Hoffman centering pass to a wide-open Jonathan Huberdeau for a back door redirection goal 55 later with Mitch Marner in the sin bin. Hoffman might have been looking to go directly to Huberdeau, but Dadonov’s stick blade, intentionally or not, got the puck through for the pretty put-away.
Hoffman would provide the go-ahead goal at 10:13 when after taking a pass from Matheson, Aaron Ekblad purposely hammered a shot wide and the veteran winger collected the rebound and threw the puck towards the net where it deflected off Cody Ceci and got by Hutchinson. He didn’t get an assist on the goal, but kudos to Vincent Trocheck for some hard work down low to get the puck up the boards to Matheson.
Pysyk would complete his first NHL hat trick with 48 ticks left on the clock when he stripped Marner of the puck in the neutral zone, got pulled down and slid the puck into the empty net anyways to clinch the Cats biggest win of the season thus far.
Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 31 saves, none bigger than going to post to post to rob Pierre Engvall with the score tied at three, to pick up his 20th win of the season.
Bobrovsky stopped the first ten shots of the game before Florida finally got one on Andersen and then cashed in on just its second shot by Pysyk nine seconds later.
The Panthers will finish off the second segment of its split six-game road trip tomorrow night in Columbus in another game with huge playoff implications against the surging Blue Jackets, who are 7-0-1 in its last eight games.
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Rakes & Bags
- Florida set a new club record with its fourth multi-goal, third-period comeback this season.
- Mike Matheson’s three points matched a career-high. It was his first three-assist game in the NHL.
- Frederik Andersen stopped 7 of 8 shots in the first period before giving way to former Panther Michael Hutchinson, who turned away 10 of 13 shots.
- Anton Stralman, who was taken in the seventh round of the 2005 draft by Toronto, suited up for the 800th regular-season game of his career.
- Mitch Marner finished the game with two assists. Other Maple Leafs with helpers were Tyson Barrie, Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.
- Mark Pysyk’s hat trick gave him a new career-high of 7 goals in a season. He now has 13 points, which is four away from the 17 he posted in 2016-17, his first season with Florida.
- For the sadder side on Florida’s titanic win visit Pension Plan Puppets.