The monkey is officially off the Leafs’ back as Toronto advances to the second round of the NHL Playoffs for the first time in 19 years. First of many missions accomplished, job well done.
Every Leaf fan knows what lies ahead of us and there is no time for this squad to rest on their laurels. As we headed into the second round, I’ve heard an alarming number of Leafs fans boasting on how fortunate we are to face Florida. The Panthers of course stunned the Bruins in 7 games, putting an end to their historic season.
I for one, have been a nervous wreck since the playoffs started, but especially since Sunday once reality set in. We are now up against an absolutely red-hot Florida team that is playing inspired hockey. After Tuesday’s Game 1 win in Toronto, the Panthers have won their last 4 games in a row, 3 of them being on the road.
These “WE WANT FLORIDA” chants are not sitting well with me at all.
“WE WANT FLORIDA!” chants in Toronto right now 🤭 pic.twitter.com/zdVa9x7HKU
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 30, 2023
Would you not have preferred a Boston team that has been playing on their heels, that couldn’t confidently close out a game, with an injured and questionable goalie situation? Sure, you don’t have the home-ice advantage with a series in Boston, but the Leafs matchup better with the Bruins as opposed to the Panthers, which was evident Tuesday night.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Leafs showed good signs in Game 1 but there’s a lot of tape to be watched and some big adjustments that must be made ahead of Thursday. Aside form the absolutely stellar play from Sergei Bobrovsky, here are a couple takeaways from tonight’s 4-2 loss.
Contain Tkachuk, Pick Up The Pace
This is not the same as facing the Lightning, where at times the series was more man-to-man matchups. Florida is known for their fast pace of play which was established in Game 1. It’s their physicality that sometimes goes unnoticed, that is, until you face them.
Panthers star Matthew Tkachuk laid down 9 hits on the Leafs. His physical presence opens up plenty of other opportunities, like for Brandon Montour who netted a goal on 5 shots. That’s a very active game for this breakout defensemen.
The Leafs need to focus on how they’ll match his pace while not losing an edge defensively. Does it maybe start with maybe giving Erik Gustafsson a shot for Mark Giordano? Gio was also the only Leaf to commit a penalty, could that suggest that this might not be a favorable matchup for the 39 year old? Again, this is something Sheldon Keefe will have to take a look at moving forward.
Bunting’s goal to tie the game at 2’s definitely shifted the momentum back in our favor and had the barn buzzing. It was the Carter Verhaeghe breakaway goal with just over 2 minutes left in the second that tilted it right back for Florida and the Leafs could never overcome it. That goal materialized because TJ Brodie was completely out of position after jumping into what was already a 2 on 1 for the Leafs. It then led to Duclair assisting Verhaeghe who in open ice is pretty much automatic, which wouldn’t have happened if Brodie wasn’t caught on the opposite end.
Duke feeds Swaggy and he's OFF 💨 pic.twitter.com/rL8kjwjFhf
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 3, 2023
This is a prime example of poor game management on Toronto’s behalf. Costly errors like this will only hurt them moving forward, as this was a gamble that you did not have to take.
All that being said, the Leafs showed lots of promise. There were several opportunities on the power play that just didn’t go Toronto’s way, which I am confident they’ll tighten up moving forward. Outshooting the Panthers 36 – 28 is also a good sign, lots of those were quality shots that came on the powerplay. However they failed to convert on all powerplay chances.
Have faith that the Leafs will bounce back Game 2 and even this series up. Just remember Leafs fans, be careful what you wish for. This Panthers squad is no joke. Expect this series to go to 7 games.
New episode of Down By Two will be out this Friday with pre and post game analysis and reactions with Josh Elijah and Jesse McKay.
Touring stand-up comic with Yuk Yuk’s. Host of the ‘Down By Two’ Podcast and ‘DB2 Bets.’ Take him on the over.