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A Baffling Performance

"Dissapointing. Baffling Frankly." Said Sheldon Keefe postgame regarding his teams performance.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are now down 2-0 in their first second-round series since 2004, and the way they played last night, they’ll be swept before you can say 1967.

The Leafs started off strong. They took a commanding 2-0 lead within the first six minutes of the first period and continued to apply consistent pressure throughout. While they did lean on Ilya Samsonov for a few nice saves and gave up one goal on a dreadful giveaway by Timothy Liljigren, they were able to escape the first period with a 2-1 lead and the shots 16-9 in their favour.

And it all went downhill from there.

The Leafs came out for the second period with all the energy and urgency of a wet napkin. The personality and passion of a stale piece of bread. Hitting? No thanks, we’ll just skate around aimlessly and waste everyone's time. Besides we’ve still got a 1-0 lead… oh no, Barkov scored on possibly the weakest floater he could've put on net. Well, it’s still tied, right? Wrong. The Panthers were able to both erase the deficit and take a lead within the first three minutes of the second period.

Sheldon Keefe described the Leafs' start to the second period as "Disappointing," and "baffling".

And from there, the Leafs seemed to give up. A deflated basketball would’ve had more bounce. It was possibly the most embarrassing 20 minutes of hockey this team has played in years. And to make things worse, they took a tripping penalty in the final seconds.

Start the period off terribly, then end it the worst way possible.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Matthew Knies, who has been one of Toronto’s most effective players, was taken down WWE-style by Sam Bennett behind the Panthers’ net toward the end of the first period. He didn’t return to the game, and Sam Bennett skated away scott-free. He did receive a fine of $5000 for a cross-check to the head of Michael Bunting later in the game.

Auston Matthews had three giveaways, one of which resulted in an immediate goal against early in the second period. Nylander was a –2, and the Rielly-Schenn pairing combined for 8 giveaways.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the three Panthers’ goals.

Goal 1. Giveaway by Liljigren behind the Leafs' net at 11:11 of the first period. Sam Reinhart gains possession and passes in front to Anton Lundell, who scores at 11:13.

Goal 2. Giveaway by Nylander in the neutral zone at 0:16 of the second period. Duclair takes the puck and passes to Barkov just inside the Leafs' zone, resulting in a goal at 0:19.

Goal 3. Giveaway by Matthews trying to break out of the defensive zone at 0:58 of the second period. Luostarinen takes possession and the Panthers set up in the Leafs zone. Forsling scores at 1:06.

See a pattern? All three Panthers’ goals were scored less than nine seconds after a Leafs' giveaway. Two were scored less than three seconds after. The Panthers are a deadly opportunistic team with an incredibly aggressive forecheck. They apply constant pressure that forces their opponents into making mistakes and capitalizing on those chances.

They’re very similar in style to the 2021 Montreal Canadiens, and we all know how that series turned out for the Leafs.

The series now shifts to Florida for games three and four. This type of play cannot be repeated if they hope to return to Toronto for game five. On the bright side, the Leafs haven’t lost a game on the road this postseason, and the Panthers are 1-2 and have been outscored 15-11 on home ice.

The opportunity to tie the series is within their grasp, but the possibility of being swept is now apparent. Will the Leafs rise to the occasion? Has their belief been shaken? We’ll have to wait until Sunday to see.

Dave Felsbourg

Friday, May 5, 2023

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