Florida Panthers GameDay
TKO’d: Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Florida Panthers 2
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The Toronto Maple Leafs came into Sunday night nine points back of the Florida Panthers in the race for the Atlantic Division lead.
Toronto desperately needed a win — and it showed.
Thanks to a goals John Tavares and Mitch Marner teamed up for in the second, the Leafs got exactly what they needed as they beat the Panthers 5-2.
The final two games of the season series will be played in Sunrise.
Florida, which comes home to play Montreal on Tuesday night, has won nine of its past 12 road games and drops to 11-2-2 within the division.
Prior to Sunday, the only Atlantic foe which had beaten Florida in regulation was Ottawa back in December.
The Leafs, who were coming off a loss in Montreal on Saturday night, snapped to attention early as they took a quick 1-0 lead.
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Spencer Knight, making his sixth start in Florida’s past seven games, never had a chance on a deflected shot from Morgan Reilly 49 seconds into the game.
It looked like the Panthers were trying to work their way into the game and found their stride midway through the first and started taking over.
Florida ended up tying the score at 10:11 of the first when Brandon Montour one-timed a Sam Bennett pass from the left circle and beat Petr Mrazek.
The Panthers got their first power play chance late in the first when Justin Holl went in for tripping. Florida had scoring chances but didn’t get anything through.
Holl was then clipped for interference as he collided with Mason Marchment giving the Panthers another kick at the power play.
Florida did not score on its second try, either, but kept the puck deep in the zone with Ryan Lomberg scoring on a wrist shot at 1:27.
The Panthers’ first lead of the night did not last long as Tavares and Marner hooked up for the first time.
After Radko Gudas took a penalty for putting rookie Michael Bunting into a headlock and taking a roughing penalty, Toronto cashed in on the ensuing power play as Tavares followed up a Marner rebound and put it over Knight.
Six minutes later, those two struck on the power play again and gave Toronto a 3-2 lead as Marner saw Tavares camped out by the net and sent him a nice feed he deflected through.
The Leafs gave themselves some breathing room midway through the third when Ilya Mikheyev broke loose on a breakaway and beat Knight with a backhander.
With over three minutes remaining, Knight was pulled for the extra attacker but this time, the Panthers failed to do anything with it.
Austin Matthew’s ended up putting one into the empty net with a second left for the final goal of the game.
— The Panthers made one lineup change (aside from Knight) after playing in Ottawa on Saturday night with Maxim Mamin coming in for Patric Hornqvist.
Andrew Brunette said Hornqvist is dealing with a nagging injury and was given the night off.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. John Tavares, Toronto
2. Mitch Marner, Toronto
3. Petr Mrazek, Toronto
UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560, SiriusXM
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 50-48, 6 ties
- Season series — Florida leads 2-0: @Florida 5, Montreal 2 (Jan. 1); Florida 4, @Montreal 3 (March 24)
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Is it possible that the addition of Giordano (and using him for 20 minutes a game) has stabilized the defense and given guys like Rielly and Brodie more confidence? Those two certainly maintained good defensive positioning all game breaking up whatever Florida was trying to do.
This was the best defensive performance I have seen from a Toronto team since the days of Tim Horton. If it is the new normal, it is certainly something that will make an impact going forward.