After game three, Leafs Nation was an absolute dumpster fire. A solid percentage threw the towel in and said there was no point in watching game four. Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews were dragged across the coals, and it was put up or shut up time for the Leafs superstars. Massive credit to them as they were fantastic tonight, and they delivered a 2-1 victory to force the series back to Toronto for game five on Friday.
Tonight’s First Star – Joseph Woll. He was an absolute rockstar tonight, to say the least. Tonight was officially his first career NHL playoff start, and the 24-year-old delivered big time.
His rebound control was exceptional; he was square to the puck all night long and composed from start to finish. He wasn’t overly busy in the first period, as he faced seven shots and stopped all seven. It wasn’t really the number of saves though, it was the way he was making the saves; he was incredibly dialed in, and nothing was phasing him.
It was very evident that the Leafs fed off of the energy that Woll was providing for them between the pipes. In the second period, he faced eight shots, and once again, he stopped them all as the Leafs carried a 1-0 lead into the third period. In the third period, the Panthers increased their intensity and outshot the Leafs 10-4. They finally broke through and got one past Woll with just under eight minutes to go, but credit to him, that was the only one he gave up. Regardless if Samsonov is declared healthy or not for game five, moving forward, this is Joseph Woll’s crease, in my opinion.
Tonight’s Second Star – Mitch Marner. He was criticized. He was scrutinized. He delivered. Mitch played a total of 21:23 and had three shots, four hits, and two points, including the game-winning goal. Marner’s assist came 3:29 into the second period on the power play as he set up William Nylander for a power play goal to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead. He then added to the Leafs lead 10:03 into the third period as he let a shot fire from the point that found its way to the back of the net, giving the Leafs a 2-0 lead.
Mitch absolutely had a rough opening five minutes into this game, as he still looked timid and hesitant with the puck. Full credit to him though, as he settled it, and he looked a lot more like the Mitch Marner who put up 99 points in the regular season.
Tonight’s Third Star – William Nylander. He was noticeable right out of the gate tonight. He was making things happen at both ends of the rink. He had a goal as well as four shots on net. He finally broke through in this series on his 34th shot on goal in the series, and he beat Bobrovsky with his third goal of the playoffs.
He has been criticized immensely for his defensive play, or lack thereof, in the past, but tonight he did a fantastic job on the backcheck, especially on a couple of occasions where he broke up an odd-man rush for the Panthers and took the puck the other way to generate a chance in the offensive zone.
Honorable mention to Luke Schenn, who was an absolute stalwart on the blue line for the Leafs tonight. He made some incredible defensive plays throughout the game. One, in particular, came in the final few minutes of regulation.
There’s still a massive uphill battle in front of the blue and white. However, they took the first step tonight. They have the chance to take the second step Friday night. In Toronto. At Scotiabank Arena. I expect the intensity for Friday’s game will be a step up from tonight’s, and I can’t wait to watch it unfold.
For more Leafs news and in-game tweets, follow me on Twitter @mikethefanatic! Also, be sure to check out The Leafs Late Night Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts!