2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs
Kings of the Road: Florida Panthers Beat Maple Leafs for 1-0 Lead
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The Florida Panthers have talked a lot about how much juice they get from their fans on home ice, but thus far this postseason, they have been much better away from Sunrise.
Whether in Boston or Toronto, the Panthers have taken their show on the road.
On Tuesday night, the Panthers won their fourth game in five road tries in the playoffs, opening up the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-2 win over the host Maple Leafs.
Not only has Florida won four straight playoff games, but it has also won its past four on enemy ice.
The Panthers won Games 2, 5 and 7 in Boston and opened up with a Game 1 win in Toronto after packing enough stuff before leaving South Florida to last them a week on the road.
“We came to Boston with the full idea we were going to win that game and that we were going to move on,’’ said Maurice, whose Panthers took a 1-0 playoff series lead for the first time since beating the New York Rangers in 1997.
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When the playoffs started, general manager Bill Zito said he adhered to an old John Tortorella idea that it was better for a team to start a playoff series on the road.
Travel to a city, have meals in a nice hotel, walk to the arena, play the game.
Florida has found its success in these opening series by keeping its game simple.
The Panthers did not do anything fancy on Tuesday night.
It got a Nick Cousins goal on a rebound, a Sam Bennett goal on a deflected shot.
Carter Verhaeghe’s slick move to break in on Ilya Samsonov was a rare stylistic play — and it turned into the game-winning goal with 2:13 left in the second.
After that, Toronto did not have a lot of clean looks until a desperate push in the final minutes where the talented Leafs threw everything they had at Sergei Bobrovsky.
For all the grief Maurice got from fans and media earlier in the season regarding his comments that Florida’s game needed to change to succeed in the playoffs, well, this is what he meant.
The Panthers play a much heavier game now, they take away space and speed from their opponents. Toronto’s two goals came on mistakes by the Panthers. They do tend to make those from time to time.
But they also can play some decent defensive hockey from the forwards back.
We know the Panthers can score, but now they are keeping their opponents from doing so as well.
The Maple Leafs have some of the most talented players in the game, and the Panthers smothered them for much of the night, keeping Toronto from doing much damage once Florida took the lead back late in the second.
Up 3-2 with 8 minutes left, Matthew Tkachuk got pulled down and Florida was able to throw an extra skater on the ice for the delayed penalty.
Brandon Montour fired off a shot that found its way home, his sixth goal of this postseason giving the Panthers a 4-2 lead.
With Bobrovsky playing the way he was, that was that.
“I thought we were good tonight, did not think we were great,” Maurice said.
“We went from such an extreme series when it came to physicality. … There was pushback midway through the game when we sort of got away from what we’re good at and they got closer to what they’re really good at.
“That’s the battle of what this series will be about. Both teams have something they are good at. You can expect a certain of amount of forecheck and physicality from us and some speed and skill from them. One team will feed the other. The team that brings the least amount of food, wins.”
Bobrovsky was, in a word, terrific on Tuesday night.
Not only did he end with 34 saves, but a half dozen came in the final minutes with Toronto rolling with an extra attacker.
“They definitely are a dangerous team,” Bobrovsky said afterward. “Guys helped me a lot, boxed out and cleared the front of the net. It was a good game. The PK was dialed in, lots of blocked shots, lots of sticks. …
“As the hockey went on, we came together and really supported each other. We helped each other, become a family every day. This is fun to be part of, definitnely.”
The Panthers will have a practice at the arena but otherwise a day off before they come back on Thursday ready to do it all over again.
Florida never led in the Boston series, losing the opener in Boston before rallying once down 3-1.
It will be interesting to see how this team comes out for Game 2 knowing they got the road split they wanted.
As good as the Panthers have been on the road of late, Florida bringing a 2-0 lead back home is not out of the question.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (ATL2) VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 2 (Panthers Lead 1-0)
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- First Round Schedule — Game 1: Florida 4, @Toronto 2; Game 2: Thursday at Toronto, 7 (TNT); Game 3: Sunday at Florida, 6:30 (TBS); Game 4: Wednesday at Florida, 7 (ESPN); Game 5*:Friday, May 12 at Toronto (TNT); Game 6*: Sunday, May 14 at Florida (TBA); Game 7*: May 16 at Toronto (TNT). (*) – If Necessary
- How They Got Here: Toronto d. Tampa Bay 4-2; Florida d. Boston 4-3
- Season Series (Toronto won 3-1): Maple Leafs 5, @Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); @Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23); Panthers 3, @Maple Leafs 2 OT (March 29); Maple Leafs 2, @Panthers 1 OT (April 10)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 48-36-7, 7 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
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Hey George. Thanks for pointing this out. “For all the grief Maurice got from fans and media earlier in the season regarding his comments that Florida’s game needed to change to succeed in the playoffs, well, this is what he meant.” It was frustrating hearing friends and also fans here complaining about him and the fire MO and Zito remarks. This is exactly how a team needs to play, specifically in the PO to be successful. The way the team played last year simply was not going to get it done in the post season. Earlier in the season i… Read more »
The Panthers were awful until late in the season. New coach, injuries, and scheduling all played a part, and the lack of results justified the questions thrown at Maurice and Zito. Recently, the Panthers are winning the exact type of games Maurice was brought here for, but I believe the questions early on were as justified as the praise both are getting now.
They certainly were, but a lot of folks took great joy in the ‘you have to make the playoff’ snark. It did take them a while to figure it out, perhaps some were fighting it. I don’t know. But Paul did say – in October – that it could take a year or more to really figure it out. And he was going to stick with it which is why they made the coaching change in the first place. They knew PM would not waver if they lost 5 of 6 and were 9 points out of the playoffs.
I am happy to put my foot in my mouth when it comes to Maurice. I had written him off as a has-been that did not know what it takes to have success in today’s NHL. I wanted him gone (and possibly Zito too for endorsing him so much). Man, it has never felt better to be so wrong. I guess it did not estimate how long it would take for us to get this system down. Also, to see how Maurice has adjusted in the playoffs has been so refreshing. Could Bruno have beat the Bruins? I am not… Read more »
We only have made it to the second round same as last year, we are also 25 pts lower in the regular season as compared to last year.I still dont like the way the 4th line gets minimal minutes they only had 8 shifts last night.
This team looks dialed in. If the D can play smart and we can eliminate stupid penalties, we can beat anyone in the playoffs. It’s extremely exciting to see the Panthers in the the playoffs, doing better than they did last year as President Trophy winners. Remember who got swept in round 2 last year??? I think Zito and Maurice know what they are doing. It feels great after being a fan since day 1, so many losing seasons and threats of moving the team… I love the players we have and feel “why not us???”
Bring home a cup!
George, you mentioned how much juice the players say they get from the fans, but throughout the years and season it has been nothing more than PR lip service that they seem compelled to regurgitate. Game 6 was a completely different animal. The energy of the crowd was palpable and real. I have never experienced that in Sunrise arena, and am hoping that the fans help make the empty words by the players a self fulfilling prophecy.
Agree here as well. Game 6 was amazing. That was as good a crowd as I have ever seen – anywhere. And they won that one, didn’t they?