Maple Leafs down Panthers to avoid sweep and force Game 5
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, May 10, 2023 9:56PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 10, 2023 10:57PM EDT
SUNRISE, Fla. - The Maple Leafs aren't done yet.
Mitch Marner had a goal and an assist as Toronto downed the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a must-win Game 4 to cut the deficit to 3-1 in the teams' second-round series Wednesday.
William Nylander also scored for the Leafs. Rookie goaltender Joseph Woll made 24 saves in his first post-season start with Ilya Samsonov sidelined due to injury. Marner and Nylander both snapped seven-game goal droughts.
Sam Reinhart replied for the Panthers, who got 23 stops from Sergei Bobrovsky.
Looking to become just the fifth team in NHL history to climb out of a 3-0 hole, Toronto gets at least a 48-hour reprieve and will host Game 5 of the best-of-seven matchup Friday at Scotiabank Arena.
Game 6, if necessary, would be Sunday back in South Florida.
The Leafs caught a big break at 3:28 of the second period on their first power play.
Toronto winger Michael Bunting tried to put the puck behind Florida's net, but it went off the referee in the corner and caromed to Nylander, who jabbed the puck off the post, off Bobrovsky and in for his first goal of the series and third of the playoffs for a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers netminder made a big stop on Bunting on another Toronto man advantage later in the period. David Kampf was then stopped twice in tight.
Woll, who got the call after Samsonov was injured in Game 3, held the fort at the other end before Kampf was crushed by Florida's Radko Gudas after the whistle on a delayed Toronto penalty. The Leafs forward went to the locker room, but returned for the third period.
John Tavares had a terrific opportunity to make it 2-0 late in the second, but Bobrovsky was there to deny the Toronto captain - just as he did in Game 2.
Woll made a nice stop on a Josh Mahura tip five minutes into the third before Marner, a lightning rod for criticism after a forgettable Game 3, made it 2-0 at 10:03 of the third when his shot from distance through a crowd fooled Bobrovsky for his third.
Reinhart, who scored in overtime of Game 3, made it 2-1 with 7:47 left on a Florida power play that just made it over the goal line on a scramble for his sixth.
But the visitors held on late to force the series back to Toronto.
The underdog Panthers - 19 points back of the Leafs in the regular-season standings and the Eastern Conference's No. 8 seed after claiming the second wild-card spot - took the first three games, including two in Toronto by 4-2 and 3-2 margins before picking up Sunday's 3-2 OT victory at FLA Live Arena.
The Leafs' star-forward quartet of Auston Matthews, Nylander, Tavares and Marner combined for zero goals through the first three games of the series.
With the victory Wednesday, Toronto delayed the start to a summer of inevitable questions about coaching, management and roster construction that would have come with a disastrous second-round showing on the heels of the organization's best playoff moment in nearly two decades
Toronto finally broke through in the post-season for the first time since 2004 - including six straight series losses for Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Morgan Rielly - when the club got past the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round.
All those good feelings, including wild street celebrations in the hockey-crazed city, withered on the vine in less than two weeks with three losses that included a dismal performance from some of the team's best players in Game 3.
Now the Leafs have a bit of life.
The Panthers, meanwhile, saw their franchise-record playoff winning streak end at six contests, but will have three more cracks at knocking off Toronto on the heels of accomplishing the same feat against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in seven games after trailing that series 3-1.
Florida remains in good position to make the conference final for the first time since 1996. Teams that take a 3-0 series lead hold an all-time record of 199-4.
The Leafs avoided their first sweep in a seven-game series since 1979 when Toronto was ousted by the Montreal Canadiens.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2023.