|@ Maple Leafs (28-40-11)||0||0||3||3|
The Panthers and the Maple Leafs were fairly even all throughout the first half of the period. Neither team had many shot opportunities and of those shots on goal, even fewer were actually substantial. As time went on, the level of action remained constant and low. With just over two minutes left in the period, short-time Panther T.J Brennan was penalized for holding and the Panthers got the first power play of the game. The Panthers got a few chances but none made it past Bernier. At the end of the period, the game was scoreless but the Panthers held a slight lead in shots on goal 9-7. There really isn’t much to say about this period. It happened. It’s over. Let’s move on. The Cats would benefit from actually shooting the puck in the remaining periods because this is an important game to win.
The Panthers clearly saw that they needed to make a change in the second and they were thankfully able to do that. Nick Bjugstad scored off of an Aaron Ekblad rebound to put the Panthers up by one. Reilly Smith got the secondary assist. Then, the Panthers had the chance to widen their lead after Kasperi Kapanen was called for holding.
The Cats were on fire now. They had a multitude of shots on the power play and although they could not score, things were looking up for the Panthers. The Maple Leafs were looking careless, and this was further proven when Frank Corrado got a hooking penalty. Unfortunately, the Panthers weren’t really able to get anything going against Bernier and the penalty was swiftly killed. This didn’t stop the Panthers, though. Rocco Grimaldi used his speed to rush the puck down the ice and shoot it top-shelf. The goal was assisted by newcomers Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell.
He really wants a space on this team and it became clear when he knelt down to score his second consecutive goal. Reilly Smith assisted this one.
Tyler Bozak was penalized for hooking and the Panthers got yet another power play. This penalty too was killed. At the end of the period, the Panthers led by 3 and also led in shots on goal 25-14. This period was a complete departure from the first. While the first period was fairly eventless, the second was full of Panthers skill and scoring. This was one of the rare occasions in which the Panthers looked really good and the Maple Leafs looked really bad. The Cats can’t count on that in the third and still must make strides to maintain their lead.
The Leafs were dominant early in the third, but Al Montoya was right there with them. However, he could not stop everything. Byron Froese was able to beat the Big Cubano, which upset the Panthers greatly. Fear not, Panthers fans. Gerard Gallant was there to save the day once more. He challenged the goal, saying that there was goaltender interference prior to the puck entering the net, and the goal was overturned.
A bit of a scrum occurred as a result of the overturned goal and Rich Clune was penalized for roughing, giving the Panthers a power play once again. The penalty was killed and followed by a Panthers penalty. Erik Gudbranson was sent to the sin bin on an interference call and the Maple Leafs got their first power play of the game. This time, the Leafs would score a goal that stuck. Colin Greening was the goal scorer and Toronto was within two for real. What the Cats fans feared would happen did just minutes later. TJ Brennan got the puck through traffic to score his first of the year. This goal too was challenged, but Gallant did not get as lucky this time and the goal stood.
Aleksander Barkov came right back and kept the Panthers’ lead safe. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad assisted the tally. Luckily for the Leafs, Colin Greening was a bit jealous of Grimaldi’s two goals and he scored his second of the game to put Toronto within one. To add insult to injury, Jaromir Jagr was penalized for holding and the Cats would be down a man late in the period. The Maple Leafs could not score, but it certainly was not for lack of trying. With just under two minutes left, Jonathan Bernier headed to the bench, making way for the extra Leafs attacker. This did not help them much, though, because the Panthers still won 4-3.
Nick Bjugstad showed off his “Tricky Nicky” moves and scored the first goal of the game. Rocco Grimaldi went on to double the lead with a beautiful goal that Bernier had no shot of saving. Then 40 seconds later, he did it again. Speed really does go a long way on a slower team. Aleksander Barkov scored the Panthers’ fourth goal midway through the third. Reilly Smith assisted both the Bjugstad goal and the second Grimaldi goal because he is a true playmaker. Also with two assists was Aaron Ekblad, who helped out on the Bjugstad goal and the Barkov goal.
The Panthers are back at it tomorrow night, April 5th, at 7:30 pm ET against the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal. Stay tuned for a COTP preview and recap of that game.