Maple Leafs Set Franchise Record for Single-Season Wins; Clinch 2018 Playoff Berth with 4-3 Victory Over FLA

Toronto (4) Florida (3) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Florida Panthers paid a visit to the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night for a date with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were presented with an opportunity to officially book their ticket to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After dropping a 3-2 decision to Buffalo over the weekend, the Maple Leafs failed to achieve a number of franchise milestones and were still looking to surpass their record for wins in a single-season.  

In order to do so, Toronto would be without Leo Komarov as he remained out of the lineup to deal with a lower-body injury. Essentially, this just buy’s a little spare time for Andreas Johnsson to showcase his talents before what seems like an inevitable demotion back to the Marlies. It should be a deep AHL playoff-run nonetheless.

According to Maple Leafs bench-boss, Mike Babcock, 

“I can tell you Leo is going in for sure, we need a heavy body and a penalty killer. He’s a man. That’s just the way it is, but I think Johnny has been real good.”

With very little time left in the NHL regular season, Florida needs every last point they can muster if they intend to track down New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot, however, you may not have known that judging by the first period.

The Maple Leafs jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 3:05 minutes into the game on the back of Mitch Marner’s 21st goal. A quick-strike play saw Marner follow up his own missed shot attempt before it bounced off the end-boards and returned to him for a one-timer, to which he placed perfectly to beat Roberto Luongo. 

Tomas Plekanec happened to notch his first point as a member of the blue and white with a secondary assist on the play.  

Mitch Marner asserted his dominance in the opening frame and managed to extend a season-high point streak to ten games. He entered the night with 3 goals and 9 assists over that span and proceeded to drive up those numbers. 

It appeared that the Panthers had their hands full with Toronto’s potent offence and evidently struggled to suppress it. 

A few minutes later, Auston Matthews doubled his team’s lead with an absolute snipe following an odd-man rush up ice with William Nylander and Jake Gardiner at his sides. 

With the goal, Matthews joined James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri as Toronto’s 30-goal scorers. Patrick Marleau sits on the horizon and has potential to join the group as well. Nazem Kadri and Auston Matthews also became the first centre-duo in franchise history to each score 30-goals in back-to-back seasons. 

The scoring had just begun because soon the Maple Leafs had added another tally. This time, Mitch Marner threaded a perfect pass to Patrick Marleau for an easy tap-in to give the Buds a 3-0 lead.

Toronto was unable to escape the opening twenty minutes unscathed, however, and went on to surrender a late goal. Zach Hyman failed to break the puck out of the defensive zone and subsequently turned possession over to Jonathan Huberdeau, who went on to snipe his 24th goal of the year passed Frederik Andersen to get Florida on the board. 

As the second period rolled around, the action slowed down until Jonathan Huberdeau made it a one-goal game courtesy of his second goal of the night. Mike Babcock elected not to challenge the play despite the potential for offside to reverse the initial ruling. 

Either team would go on to add another goal to their totals, ultimately resulting in a 4-3 final decision for the Maple Leafs in front of a bodacious home crowd. 

James van Riemsdyk slipped one past Roberto Luongo to notch his 35th goal of the season and 200th of his tenured career. Luongo made the first save but could not prevent the big body presence from securing his own rebound before falling to the ice. 

Toronto’s 46th victory of the 2017-18 regular season establishes a new franchise record, one that can only be built upon from this point going forward. It goes to show just how special this group truly is. Additionally, the Maple Leafs officially clinched a 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff berth.

Despite rewriting the record books, this group has and will continue to face plenty of scrutiny heading into the post-season… But they will gladly exploit an underdog role if given the opportunity. 

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca 

On Twitter - @GordBrown_  

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs