SUNRISE — For a minute there, it looked like Toronto’s bid to pull a two-day sweep of the Sunshine State and it would be realized in a rout of the Florida Panthers.
The Leafs, after all, scored three goals in the first two minutes of the second period to chase Sergei Bobrovsky. Then Spencer Knight gave one up.
Those watching this team all season know better than that.
If you thought coming back from a four-goal deficit Saturday to beat New Jersey was a big deal, well, the Panthers basically had a ‘hold my beer’ moment against the Maple Leafs.
Florida outscored the Leafs by five at one point before the Leafs got a John Tavares (who else?) goal to tie the score and force overtime.
It was there where Jonathan Huberdeau scored with 2:13 left to give the Panthers an incredible 7-6 victory. With a lot of Canada watching, Huberdeau firmly put his name in the running for the Hart Memorial Trophy which goes to league MVP.
He had two goals and five points in one of the most exciting games of a season full of them.
The Panthers, down 5-1 midway through the second, led 6-5 late in the third when Tavares scored on the power play.
With the overtime win, Florida extends its lead on the Leafs in the race for the Atlantic Division title to eight points.
Florida getting out of this game with anything after trailing 5-1 before the midway point of the game was impressive; gaining some more separation from a Toronto team which had won five straight was downright incredible.
So, where to begin?
Let’s start with the first: Florida played a really strong period, containing the Leafs’ big shooters and took a 1-0 lead on a nice pass from Sasha Barkov to Sam Reinhart. William Nylander tied with a power play shot at 15:21.
Now, to the second.
It was a crazy 20 minutes of hockey, one in which Toronto scored the first four goals to take what should have been a commanding 5-1 lead before the Panthers started pecking away at it.
Mitch Marner became the fastest player in NHL history to pull the short-handed/power play Perfecta (you know that was a thing?) as he raced through the Panthers’ defense on their power play chance and gave his team the lead at 2-1 just 30 seconds into the second.
Ben Chiarot then took a penalty allowing Marner to get a power play goal a mere 47 seconds after he got his shorty — therefore the Perfecta.
Bobrovsky was done for the night on another defensive breakdown in front of him (not absolving him) which led to Colin Blackwell camping out in front of the net and knocking in an uncontested pass from Morgan Reilly.
Knight came in and slowed the roll a bit, but at 8:40 of the period, Jake Muzzin beat him and it was a four-goal game.
Toronto — coming off a 6-2 win in Tampa the night before — must have thought this was one easy state to play in, eh?
Reinhart got things going for the Panthers at 11:52 of the second by going bar-down on a power play chance from his spot in front of the net.
A minute later, Radko Gudas got Florida’s 11th shorthanded goal (yes, two shorthanded goals in the same period) by flying a shot from inside the blueline that got past Erik Kallgren.
Kallgren ended up getting shaken up after taking a puck off the mask leaving goaltending duties to Jack Campbell.
He stopped the first shot he saw — but not the second.
With 2:04 left in the second, Claude Giroux got his first goal as a member of the Panthers by sliding in front and putting the puck past Campbell.
Florida gladly went into the room down a goal after what had happened in the first half of that period.
The Panthers were aggressive in the third as well, coming all new Jersey on the Leafs in the third outshooting them 8-2 to open the period.
Jonathan Huberdeau, already with two assists, got his third point of the night and, more importantly, tied the thing up at 5 with 17:15 left.
Sasha Barkov gave the Panthers the lead at 8:01 off a pass from Huberdeau.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida
2. Sasha Barkov, Florida
3. Mitch Marner, Toronto
UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
BUFFALO SABRES AT X-FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
- 2021 regular season series: Did not play
- Season Series — Florida leads 3-0: @Florida 7, Sabres 4 (Dec. 2); Florida 6, @Buffalo 1(March 7); Florida 5, @Buffalo 3 (April 3)
- All-time regular season series: Buffalo leads 52-45-5, 4 ties