The Florida Panthers advance to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after defeating the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. After pulling off a shocking upset against the Boston Bruins in round one, the Panthers kept the momentum going, upsetting the Maple Leafs in five games. After going down three games to none, the Maple Leafs bounced back, but a late overtime goal by former Sault Ste Marie Greyhound Nick Cousins ended all hopes of a comeback.
In the first period, the Florida Panthers came out strong. The Cats franchise defenseman Aaron Ekblad unleashed one from the left wall that just got through the Leafs goaltender. After the Panthers took an early 1-0 lead only 3:31 into the game, the blue and white bounced right back, putting the pressure on trying to find an equalizer. However, even though the Leafs dominated most of the period, Florida Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe added the team’s second goal. After an awkward bounce on the blade of Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren, the Cats took advantage, scoring another off the rush. The Panthers carried a 2-0 lead heading into the second period.
When the middle frame kicked off, the Toronto Maple Leafs started to find their groove. After creating some good looks in the opening period, being down two could’ve been a stinger. However, the Maple Leafs started to claw back as Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly scored from the point. After the Maple Leafs made it a one goal game, the blue and white put all the pressure they could in hopes of an equalizer. After generating a few opportunities, it looked as if the Leafs finally tied the game late in the second, but the goal was reviewed and did not count. In what looked like the puck clearly crossed the line under the pad of the Panthers goaltender, it was deemed play was dead before the puck crossed the line. Despite a pretty good second period for the Maple Leafs, the Cats still held a one goal advantage heading into the final period.
In the final twenty minutes of this one, when the pressure was all on, and after a goal that was taken back, it would’ve been easy for the Maple Leafs to just let this one go, but that was not the case. After peppering Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky early, frustration was clearly starting to build for Toronto. As the clock slowly chipped away, it was looking less and less likely the Leafs were going to pull it off until one Leafs star rose to the occasion. Leafs forward William Nylander entered the zone coming down on Sergei Bobrovsky and just lifted one over the shoulder. Once the puck was in the goal, the city of Toronto erupted as William Nylander restored hope in the fanbase. After tying the game up at two a piece, we were heading to overtime.
In overtime, the Florida Panthers really found their footing early. After letting their two goal lead fade away, the Cats were hungry, pressing for the game-winning goal. After some clutch saves by Leafs goaltender Joseph Woll, the Maple Leafs looked to have some life, nearly scoring one of their own. However, after a Maple Leafs opportunity was quickly countered by the Panthers. Cats forward Nick Cousins came through the middle of the ice and wristed one just over the pad of the Maple Leafs goaltender. In a crazy sequence of events, the Maple Leafs season was over as the Panthers won 3-2.
After a season that was filled with many ups and downs, it’s hard to be a Leafs fan right now. Such a painful exit after finally advancing through the first round, but don’t give up yet. It might be hard trying to find a positive right now, but this team isn’t going down yet. With a strong offseason this summer, surely the group will be a contender once again in 2023-24. The season might be over, but now we look to the 2023 NHL Draft this June.
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