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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Florida Panthers Enjoy Momentous Upset but Maple Leafs Await



Panthers leafs
Florida Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk, center, celebrates after Carter Verhaeghe scored in overtime to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 win over the heavily favored Bruins in Game 7 on Sunday night. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

After pulling a stunning upset of the top-seeded Bruins with a overtime win in Game 7 on Sunday night, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice decided to change up the way he does things.

Usually, a coach will let his team enjoy a win “that night” and then get back to work the following day.

With the emotions of not only beating the heavily-favored Bruins but rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to do so, Maurice took it easy on his team Monday — well aware his team opens a playoff series against the Maple Leafs the following day.

“Maybe 10, 15-years ago, I would have said we have to forget about it, move on,” Maurice said from Boston on Monday morning before a quick flight to Toronto. “We’re not playing (Monday), so we get to enjoy it today and we’re going to enjoy it today. We will deal with our tomorrow when it comes.”

It will be interesting to see how the Panthers come out for Game 1 against the Maple Leafs tonight considering all they have been through.

A week ago, the Panthers appeared headed toward a quick playoff exit having lost two straight games on home ice and falling behind to the best regular-season team in NHL history.

The Panthers say they had no doubt they could rattle off three consecutive must-win games and take down the mighty Bruins. OK, we will take them at their word on that.

But Matthew Tkachuk was right when he said no one else saw that coming.

Regardless, the Panthers are either going to come into tonight’s game flying high or it will be apparent to all the battle of the previous series — which, really, just ended a few hours ago — took its toll.

“It is two sides of the same coin,” Maurice said. “On one half, that was as emotional a win as our franchise has ever had.

“So, you either say you’re a little light in the tank or you are still flying on those fumes. You’re either coming out hot because you’re still rolling or you’re gassed. Either way, Game 1 will get played and Game 2 will have nothing to do with Game 1.”

The Panthers are running into another tough matchup in Toronto, a team which took out Florida nemesis Tampa Bay in 6 games with a 2-1 overtime win on Saturday night.

The Maple Leafs are a high-flying offensive team with a suspect defense and a starting goalie (Ilya Samsonov) who looked really sharp against the Panthers in last year’s opening-round with Washington until Florida figured him out.

Toronto, which won three of the four meetings against the Panthers this season, also have a power play that scored 6 goals on 21 chances (29 percent) against the Lightning.

Florida needs to tighten that aspect of its game after giving up 11 goals on 27 chances (59 percent) to the Bruins. When it came to 5-on-5 play, the Panthers dominated Boston.

“After knocking off a team like Boston, I’m sure they’re going to be coming in here with confidence,’’ Toronto star Auston Matthews said. “I think we can say the same about our group.”

It should be noted that Toronto’s three wins against Florida did not come in the first half of the season but the second.

Due to a scheduling wrinkle, Toronto and the Panthers played three times from March 23 on.

These two teams certainly know each other quite well.

“It is going to be fun, they are a great team,’’ said Florida’s Game 7 overtime hero Carter Verhaeghe, who grew up a Leafs fan in the Toronto area and was originally drafted by them.

“They are there for a reason. A really good challenge for our group and a it is going to be a lot of fun.”


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