Panthers Hand the Maple Leafs Back-to-Back Losses for the First Time Since Mid-January
Florida (3) Toronto (2) Final (OT)
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Following a 4-3 defeat at the hands of Tampa Bay, the Maple Leafs travelled to Florida in hopes of taking down the Panthers for the second time in a week. Toronto walked away with a narrow 1-0 victory exactly one week ago to the date.
Regardless of last week’s result, Florida entered Tuesday having racked up nine wins in their last twelve games.
Evgenii Dadonov has been leading the playoff push for the Panthers, offensively speaking. The former KHL standout was looking to improve upon a personal streak consisting of 10-points in his last seven games, including a hat-trick versus Pittsburgh this past Saturday.
In between the pipes, Curtis McElhinney received the nod for Toronto after Frederik Andersen posted 39-saves in a losing effort one night prior. The 34-year-old backup had a stretch of four-straight wins on the line. Roberto Luongo would in goal start for Florida ahead of former Leafs fan-favourite, James Reimer, after providing a strong 30-save and .968 SV% performance against Toronto last week.
It marked the third-straight game without Auston Matthews, meaning Mike Babcock had to shuffle his new-look lineup in hopes of finding chemistry amongst new additions.
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Zach Hyman - Tomas Plekanec - William Nylander
Leo Komarov - Dominic Moore - Kasperi Kapanen
Tomas Plekanec didn’t exactly shine in his debut for the blue and white, racking up 4:00 penalty minutes and finishing a plus/minus -1 in 11:38 of time on ice. He fared slightly better tonight but did not have a very big influence on the game’s final decision, finishing with a 75% success rate on face-offs and 2 shots on goal.
As the action got underway, it took 11:02 for the home team to break the ice and inspire what remained of their fans in the crowd in between supporters of the blue and white.
Aleksander Barkov notched his 21st goal of the season with a power-play marker. The play began with a nifty pass by Jonathan Huberdeau from behind the goal-line, connecting with Barkov for a quick one-timer beside the net to give his team a 1-0 lead.
The second period warranted much more action, however, and began just 1:42 following puck-drop with a tally courtesy of Jonathan Huberdeau (19)—his second point of the night.
It didn’t take long for Toronto to respond, as Dominic Moore netted his 6th off of a blatant rebound opportunity. Roberto Luongo failed to freeze the puck and instead allowed several rebounds before finally being beat by Moore from a poor angle.
Florida’s momentum was slowly coming to an end and soon the score was tied at 2-apiece.
Zach Hyman secured the equalizer on the back of a significant effort by William Nylander, who single-handedly created a scoring opportunity after stripping Evgenii Dadonov of the puck in the neutral zone. Once in his possession, Nylander drove towards the net and evaded several defenders before dropping a pass to Hyman in the slot for a seemingly empty net.
The 2-2 deadlock remained throughout the rest of regulation time, meaning an overtime would be necessary for the second-night in-a-row.
An action filled extra frame featured chances at both ends—but one defensive mishap would prove to be the game’s defining moment. Both Nazem Kadri and Nikita Zaitsev bailed on their defensive responsibilities in hopes of containing Jared McCann but instead discovered that speed, does, in fact, kill.
Jared McCann blew past the pair of Maple Leaf defenders and sent himself on a breakaway against Curtis McElhinney with the game on his stick—to which he made no mistake and beat Toronto’s net-minder with a quick blocker-side wrist shot. The 4-3 final decision would mark Florida’s third-straight victory, helping inch the Panthers two-points closer to a potential Wild Card playoff berth.
Additionally, this would mark the first time Toronto has lost back-to-back games since mid-January.
The Maple Leafs will rest-up for the remainder of the week before bundling up for the elements in an outdoor affair with the Washington Capitals this weekend. Saturday marks the 2018 Stadium Series matchup which will take place at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD—puck drop is set at 8:00 p.m. EST.
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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs