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2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Kings of the Road: Florida Panthers Beat Maple Leafs for 1-0 Lead

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Florida Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour celebrates his third-period goal in a 4-2 win over the host Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Tuesday night. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

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.

Simple.

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)

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