Earlier today, I rewatched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Four Days in October” about the 2004 Boston Red Sox to remind myself of the miracles of sport. That Red Sox team was the first team in MLB history to win a playoff series after being down 3-0 in said series. That team went on to be the Red Sox team that broke the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ and won Boston their first World Series in 86 years. Sound familiar? Tonight’s win by the Leafs over the Florida Panthers was just one game, but it signified something larger. If there is a 56-year curse looming over the organization, this iteration of the Leafs just might be the ones to break it.
It wasn’t the cleanest game Toronto had played this year, but it may have been their tightest defensively. Joseph Woll was nearly faultless in goal besides allowing a point-blank chance on the power play, but honestly, he wasn’t challenged that often. The Panthers generated just four high-danger chances in the first two periods as the Leafs did a fantastic job of keeping things to the perimeter. Toronto played a safe game, ensuring Florida wouldn’t get too many odd-man rushes, and when they did, the back pressure always came at just the right moment or someone made an incredible shot block. Here’s one by Luke Schenn
And one by Mark Giordano
On the offensive side of things, the first period was about as even as it gets, with the Leafs generating 0.41 expected goals to the Panthers’ 0.4. However, Toronto started to assert its will in period two. Michael Bunting got high-sticked, which gave the Leafs a two-minute power play. It should have been more, but the referees decided that the rules were subjective tonight.
On the subsequent power play, the Leafs finally got a good bounce off the knee of a ref, and William Nylander got rewarded for his hard work, tucking it away. Nylander was strong again tonight and made a pretty nifty play on his goal. He elevated the puck just enough on his backhand to get it over Sergei Bobrovsky’s shoulder, off the post and in.
Not long after, Radko Gudas ran David Kampf a solid three seconds after the initial whistle was blown but was not given a penalty.
Either the refs were reminiscing about the time Kodak Black had pretend sex in an FLA Live Arena box and missed it, or they just are big fans of Radko Gudas murdering guys on the hockey rink. Either way, Gudas walked away unscathed, and the Leafs ended up down a man after the chaos. Still, they managed to preserve their lead heading into the third.
What I loved about the Buds the most tonight was how they started the third period. Toronto didn’t sit back. They pushed ahead, looking to add to their lead. Sheldon Keefe was not afraid to put out Nylander with Marner and Matthews and they created a few chances. The Leafs are better when they are on the front foot, no matter the score, and some aggressive play generated their second goal.
I thought Timothy Liljegren was fantastic tonight, and he kept things alive on Marner’s goal. He was looking to make positive plays all night, and he used his offensive ability to keep the puck alive for his team on this shift. Marner then makes an intelligent play to find a soft spot in the offensive zone, be patient, and fire one through. I still think Marner can be better. He played well tonight, but there were times when I thought he stopped moving his feet and allowed the game to swallow him up. He had a really lovely sequence in the third period when he got the puck on the wall and broke into the middle of the ice, almost setting up Calle Jarnkrok for a goal. I want to see more of that. Also, it’s no coincidence that Marner’s goal came from a distance shot with a screen in front. The Leafs need to continue to get bodies in front of Bobrovsky because he has been dialled in when he can see what is in front of him.
From then on, Toronto went into ‘protect the lead’ mode and did its best to create a wall in front of Woll. Other than a horrible shift from Mark Giordano (Once again the Leafs’ worst player tonight), which led to a Leaf penalty and a Panther goal, Toronto didn’t allow very many dangerous chances late in this game. They didn’t panic with the puck in their zone late in the game and managed to hold onto a one-goal lead. I should also shout out this play by Luke Schenn, which was unbelievable.
The dude has the passion.
Tonight was reminiscent of the playbook that the Leafs employed against Tampa Bay. They didn’t make any silly mistakes, were confident in their ability to move the puck, chipped away, and held firm defensively. In the end, that’s how you grind out a playoff win, especially on the road. Now, they get to go back to Toronto with all the momentum and run the Panthers out of the building. The Leafs just won their first game seven, and now they have another one on Friday.
The end-of-the-game scrum from the Panthers was pathetic. But I’d expect nothing less from a hockey team with like 12 fans. Lose one game and throw a hissy fit. I’d say I hope George Parros will have a look at Sam Bennett pumping the brakes off Jake McCabe while he’s sitting on top of him. But I know he won’t. Sick league.
Lastly, I do want to shout out Joseph Woll. You’ll hear this a lot over the next two days, but he is so calm in the net and always seems to know where the puck is. I am super impressed with his puck-handling skills too, and he helped out the Leafs’ defenseman a lot with his ability to pass and control the puck. I would not take him out of the net until he loses; even then, I might keep him in. He has earned that much.
Short one tonight because I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. The boys had one job tonight; they accomplished it, and now they get to do it again Friday.
See you then, Go Leafs Go.