Tkachuk, Panthers defeat Maple Leafs in Game 1 of Eastern 2nd Round
Matthew Tkachuk had three assists, and the Florida Panthers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday.
“He’s a force, he’s a great player,” Panthers forward Sam Bennett said of Tkachuk. “He steps up in big games and he’s physical. He make plays, he scores goals and he’s one of the rarest players in the NHL I would say, so I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Florida, the second wild card in the East, extended its Stanley Cup Playoff winning streak to four games after it won three straight to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the first round to defeat the Presidents’ Trophy winning Boston Bruins in the best-of-7 series.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 34 saves, and Bennett had a goal and an assist and for the Panthers, who were 4-for-4 on the penalty kill.
“My guys helped me a lot, they did great box outs and cleaned out the front of the net,” Bobrovsky said. “The PK was dialed. Lots of good blocked shots, lots of good sticks.”
Matthew Knies scored his first NHL goal, and Ilya Samsonov made 24 saves for the Maple Leafs, the No. 2 seed from the Atlantic Division. It was Toronto’s first second-round game since May 4, 2004, after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 in the first round.
Game 2 is here Thursday.
“I thought we made mistakes, now credit to Florida because of how they played, they force you to make mistakes, but I thought we made some mistakes here tonight that we didn’t necessarily make in the last series,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Carter Verhaeghe put the Panthers up 3-2 at 17:47 of the second period. After Toronto defenseman TJ Brodie pinched at the red line, Anthony Duclair got the puck behind him to Verhaeghe in the neutral zone, and he scored on a breakaway.
“Duclair made a great play to me, and I think it’s huge, anytime you get a goal at the end of the period, instead of going in tied, you go in up a goal,” Verhaeghe said. “It settled us down after the period, and you could take a deep breath.”
Keefe said Verhaeghe’s goal was the difference in the game.
“We give up a breakaway to really the one guy we definitely don’t want to give a breakaway to,” Keefe said. “We don’t want to give it to anybody, but we certainly don’t want to give it to that guy. It’s a big part of our plan going in is how he can jump into those holes, and that’s how he scores a lot of his goals getting in behind defense. We cannot make that mistake when it’s 2-2 at the end of a period. That’s a tough one.”
Brandon Montour made it 4-2 at 12:24 of the third period when he one-timed a shot from the blue line on a pass from Tkachuk with a 6-on-5 advantage during a delayed penalty.
“We’re playing confident right now,” Bennett said. “We’ve really bought in to what we need to do to win, and I think there’s still more our team can bring. We didn’t have a great full 60-minute game there so I think there’s a little more we can do, clean up a couple things but our team is playing with some good confidence right now.”
After killing penalties to Bennett at 2:20 of the first period for elbowing and Gustav Forsling at 4:46 for tripping, the Panthers went up 1-0 at 9:25 when Nick Cousins backhanded a rebound just below the left hash marks from Tkachuk’s shot.
“We’re trying to score on (the power plays),” Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner said. “We’re trying to make plays. We did pretty well getting things around the net. We’ve just got to do a better job of getting second opportunities.”
The Panthers went up 2-0 at 7:58 of the second period. Aaron Ekblad’s point shot went off the stick of Knies before being deflected again by Bennett at the top of the goal crease.
“Give them credit, they played well,” Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn said. “But a lot of the goals that were scored were self-inflicted. They’re a great team, they played well tonight, give them credit. But in saying, that we think, I think, still have a lot more to give.”
Knies responded 11 seconds later, cutting it to 2-1 at 8:09 when he took a pass from Auston Matthews and put a no-look backhand past a sprawling Bobrovsky.
Michael Bunting tied it 2-2 at 14:51. He took a pass from Calle Jarnkrok at the top of the crease on his forehand before going to his backhand to put it past Bobrovsky’s outstretched left pad.
“I thought we were good tonight, I didn’t think we were great,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “They had a good push back halfway through the game. We kind of got a little bit away from what we are good at, and they got closer to what they’re really, really good at. That will be the battle of this series.”
“You can expect a certain amount of forecheck and physicality from us and a certain amount of speed and skill from them and one team will feed the other. The team that brings the least amount of food to the game wins.”
RD 2 | Game 1 Lineup pic.twitter.com/dlUMckf2DQ
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Expelliarmus extraordinaire 🪄 pic.twitter.com/YMUalcrJkr
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) May 2, 2023
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