Their Atlantic Division series in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs continues with Florida holding a 3-1 series lead after Wednesday’s 2-1 win by Toronto. Goalie Joseph Woll stopped 24 shots in his first playoff start for the Maple Leafs, who also got goals from Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Sam Reinhart scored for Florida, which got 23 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky.
“There’s something nice in the playoffs about being on the road,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said. “You get a kind of cocooned feeling. Everybody else in the building isn’t cheering for you, so it’s just [your team]. Also, there’s a simplicity to your game. Just play the game.”
Leading the best-of-7 series 3-1, the Panthers are looking to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1996. If they advance, they’ll face the Hurricanes, who just wrapped up their own series with a 3-2 overtime win over the Devils in Game 5 on Thursday.
Missing out of a chance to complete their first playoff sweep in franchise history, the Panthers came up just short in a 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs in Game 4 at FLA Live Arena on Wednesday.
Finding the back of the net for the fifth time in his last seven games, Sam Reinhart scored the lone goal for the Panthers, while Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 23 of 25 shots. Surrendering just two goals in each game against Toronto, Bobrovsky owns a .934 save percentage in the series.
With a flukey goal from William Nylander tilting the scales in Toronto’s favor early, the margin between winning and losing was razor thin in Game 4. The Panthers led 57-45 in shot attempts and 28-21 in scoring chances, while also finishing with a slight edge in expected goals (2.48-2.39).
“I think we’ve just got to stick to what we’re doing well,” Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour said. “Clean up a little bit of things from last game. Obviously that could’ve went either way, a 2-1 game, tight game. They’re all tight games. Bring a little bit more energy. I thought we were a little loose. Obviously they’re a desperate team, but we’ve got to be just as desperate tonight.”
In order to find more success, the Panthers want to do a better job of making life difficult for rookie goaltender Joseph Woll. Starting in relief of Ilya Samsonov, who is out with an upper-body injury, the 24-year-old made 24 saves, but only faced eight high-danger shots in Game 4.
“We could’ve had more guys at the net to make his game a little tougher,” said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, who has two goals and five assists over his last seven games. “It’s all right. We’ll watch some video, we’ll learn. We’ve learned a lot. Every game we learn something new.”
Coach Sheldon Keefe felt Toronto’s fate was sealed well before its Game 5 loss.
“We lost the series in the first three games,” said Keefe, alluding to Toronto falling into a 3-0 hole. “I believe we had a group good enough to win the Stanley Cup, and we didn’t do that. This is a missed opportunity for our group.”
Florida struck first when Aaron Ekblad capitalized on an early power-play chance less than four minutes into the opening frame. Toronto’s penalty kill had struggled throughout the series, giving up goals in each of the last three games.
The Maple Leafs couldn’t convert on their own power-play chance later in the period that showcased strong, sustained zone pressure but limited shots on Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.
Florida doubled its lead shortly thereafter when Maple Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren misplayed the puck at his own blueline right onto the stick of Anthony Duclair, who set up a Carter Verhaeghe strike.
The Panthers carried their 2-0 lead into the second period, where Morgan Rielly got Toronto on the board blasting a puck through traffic with Bobrovsky screened in front.
“We’ve had success the first few [road] games,” Panthers forward Nick Cousins said. “At the same time, it doesn’t mean anything. It kind of seems like it’s been like that in the playoffs all around the league. Everybody’s finding success on the road. I don’t know what it is. I think it’s going to be a fun atmosphere. It’s going to be really exciting for us to try and get the job done.”
Florida the team with the fewest points to qualify for the postseason won all three games in Toronto and improved to 6-1 on the road in the playoffs after also upsetting the record-setting Boston Bruins. The Panthers will next face the Carolina Hurricanes, who also beat the New Jersey Devils in five games.
The Maple Leafs now face an uncertain offseason despite its breakthrough against the Lightning. General manager Kyle Dubas doesn’t have a contract beyond June 30, while there have also been rumblings about the future of coach Sheldon Keefe. Nylander and Auston Matthews both have one year remaining on their contracts and can sign extensions as of July 1, while fellow star forward Mitch Marner’s no-movement clause kicks in the same day.
In a coaching career that has been Billy Martin-esque, Maurice was fired by the Canes in 2003, rehired by the Canes in 2008 and then fired again in 2011.
Staal, the Canes’ first-round draft pick in 2003, was a 100-point center in the 2005-2006 season when Carolina made its run to the Stanley Cup. Brind’Amour was the captain of the Cup winner, later to be succeeded by Staal.
Jordan Staal now wears the “C” as the Canes captain and defenseman Marc Staal joins Eric, the oldest of the Staal brothers, with the Panthers. For the next few games, whether four or as many as seven, theirs will be a love/hate relationship of sorts on the ice.
And the Panthers have other Canes connections. Forward Zac Dalpe played 41 games in three seasons for Carolina a decade ago, and forward Eetu Luostarinen and defenseman Gustav Forsling were in the Canes system before being traded to Florida in the 2020 deal that brought center Vincent Trocheck to Carolina. Panthers goalie Alex Lyon also was with the Canes.
Maurice, now 56, endured the two long years in Greensboro until the new arena was opened in Raleigh, helped ease the move into “ACC country,” and helped educate fans about a sport that many called “ice hockey.”
“I know some people are thinking,” Comcast Spectacor chairman Dan Hilferty said, “here they go again, hiring two former Flyers isn’t a fresh start.”
The Flyers on Friday introduced Keith Jones yeah, their former long-time broadcaster as team president and stamped general manager Danny Briere as one of the leaders of the franchise. Jones and Briere each played for the Flyers and both have remained connected to the franchise in retirement.
They both remember when the Flyers were an elite franchise — Briere as a star postseason player that led them to the last Stanley Cup Final in 2010 and Jones as a sharp-witted analyst affectionately known as “Jonesy” that watched it happen from the broadcast booth.
But it’s been a long time since the Flyers were good, even longer since they were bona fide Stanley Cup contenders and the rowdy atmosphere that once gave them one of the toughest home-ice edges in the NHL has melted into scores of empty sections and turned game night into the dreariest atmosphere in Philly sports.
At their introductory presser, Briere and Jones were light on specifics other than offering the cold reminder that building the Flyers into winners would take time. They preached patience for the fans and promoted that the leadership group — including second-year coach John Tortorella — was unified in the rebuilding path needed to reach their goals.
And that they’re former Flyers? So what, Hilferty said. They were the best candidates for their jobs and “it just so happens they’re former Flyers.”
Jones said there was no other team he had an interest in working for other than the Flyers. He thought 23 years as an analyst for Flyers telecasts on NBC Sports Philadelphia and years spent on national broadcasts on NBC and TNT gave him a unique perspective on the league and an insider’s edge that could make it easier to navigate a rookie year in the front office.
The Flyers hired multiple search firms and interviewed several candidates all to land on a candidate who simply had to surrender his press pass to get the job.
“I don’t get sometimes when in this process, when people start taking about Flyers alumni, Jonesey an ex-Flyer, Danny an ex-Flyer, what has happened, why do people think that they are diseased if you’re an ex-Flyer?” Tortorella asked. “That you shouldn’t be in this organization, that you need to look outside. It’s the person you’re looking at. I’m proud that they’re Flyers.”
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