Maple Leafs squander 2-goal lead midterm as Panthers extend series lead

Sheldon Keefe took his place at the microphone with a blank expression.

It was the same look the Maple Leafs head coach had after his team gave the Florida Panthers two goals in a disastrous 47 seconds.

Sergei Bobrovsky then took over.

The veteran goaltender made 35 saves as Florida once again capitalized on some crucial errors from Toronto to earn a 3-2 win and take a 2-0 lead Thursday in their second-round playoff series.

“Disappointing, disconcerting,” Keefe said at the start of one of the shortest press conferences of his career. “We didn’t make those mistakes once in the last series.”

WATCH | Forsling scores a decisive goal for the Panthers in the Game 2 win:

Forsling’s 2nd period goal proves game-winning, Panthers win Game 2

Gustav Forsling’s second-period goal gave the Panthers the lead for good as Florida beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 and led the series 2-0.

He spoke in the morning about how smarter and more responsible this iteration of the Leafs was – especially in the franchise’s first-round win over the Tampa Bay Lightning that ended 19 years of playoff heartbreak. — despite a few mistakes that cost them Game 1 against Florida.

“That’s why it’s disconcerting,” he said in follow-up question Thursday night.

“[Go] at home, look in the mirror,” added Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov. “And ask you, what more should I do? That’s what we have to do – everyone.”

Anton Lundell, with a goal and an assist, Aleksander Barkov and Gustav Forsling scored for Florida, which beat the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in seven games, including three on the road, before going on to win. win two more at Scotiabank Arena.

“It’s a prospect,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said. “That’s five games in nine nights of as intense emotional pressure as you can put on a hockey team. We’ve been on a plane for a while. We didn’t think we had much in our legs.

“It was just about character and it was just about fighting and fighting.”

Ryan O’Reilly and Alexander Kerfoot replied for Toronto, which quickly lost a 2-0 lead. Samsonov stopped 26 shots.

The series moves south

The best-of-seven series now moves to Sunrise, Fla., for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday and Wednesday, with the Leafs facing a steep climb against an opponent with a relentless forecheck that has baffled Boston and is now giving fits. in Toronto.

“We don’t just run like animals,” Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk said. “We are just trying to play our identity.”

“It’s not a great place,” Leafs captain John Tavares said of his team’s predicament. “A chance to regroup here and look forward to hitting the road. It will be a tough test, but we have to raise our level.”

Leading 2-1 after a spirited and choppy first period, disaster struck Toronto early in the second.

Barkov tied the game just 19 seconds on a long shot Samsonov said he hadn’t seen his second goal of the postseason.

Things got even worse at 1:06 thanks to a puck play in the defensive zone when Mitch Marner sent an ill-advised pass to Auston Matthews, who in turn couldn’t get it out.

A group of hockey fans cheer and wave towels in the air while standing together on a city street.
Fans react during Game 2 at the Maple Leafs’ tailgate outside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Thursday. (Nav Rahi/CBC)

Florida responded quickly, with Forsling finishing off a Tkachuk set-up — his fourth assist of the series — for the defenseman’s second in the playoffs and a 3-2 lead.

The shocked Leafs took some time to recover before Nylander hit the post with a shot that also hit Bobrovsky in the back and stayed clear. Florida defenseman Brandon Montour then found the iron on Samsonov on the other end.

Tavares had a big chance before Josh Mahura took a shot from Nylander on the visor that left a trail of blood on the ice as he walked out to the locker room for repairs.

Toronto came out for third with a lot of urgency but couldn’t resolve Bobrovsky, who began to rediscover his Vezina Trophy-winning form in this postseason after losing the starting job late in the regular season. in favor of third stringer Alex Lyon.

“I played great,” said Tkachuk. “He’s been driving it for us since he came back.”

A group of male ice hockey players huddle on the ice while celebrating as team fans cheer and cheer from behind the glass.
Ryan O’Reilly is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a first-half goal on Thursday. (Heather Waldron/CBC)

Tavares was stopped alone on the Florida keeper and Nylander hit another post. The Leafs winger was also ruled out in a tight game with five minutes left in regulation time.

“I had to jump out of my seat about three times,” Matthews said. “I thought we had the puck in the ΓǪ net laying right there, just missed.”

The home side continued to press with Samsonov on the bench for an extra striker, but could not find a way past Bobrovsky.

“We are working hard,” Barkov said. “We believe in each other, we believe in our system. Bob has been huge for us.”

Samsonov was asked if he felt more pressure with his opposing steal wins at the other end.

“I don’t give a [expletive]“, he replied before adding:” I do my job, he does his job.

Toronto dropped Game 1 4-2, but got off to a good start Thursday when Kerfoot rebounded for his second 2:20 into the first.

Unable to connect on the first two power plays in Game 1, the Leafs made it 2-0 on the power play at 5:10 when Marner swung around the offensive zone and found O’Reilly for bury his third.

Leafs Knies rookie quits game

The hard-hitting Panthers, who beat the record-breaking Bruins in seven games to make the second round, stayed on message and began pushing back as the period wore on, including Sam Bennett putting Matthew Knies in a headlock and the slamming on ice.

The Toronto rookie finished the period, but did not return for the second. Keefe didn’t get an update after the game.

“I didn’t like it,” Tavares said of the Bennett-Knies streak. “And then [it] results in injury. »

Florida responded at 11:13 when Lundell scored his first goal after teammate Eetu Luostarinen crushed Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren behind Samsonov’s net and Tavares went down as the Panthers began to turn the tide.

“It was by no means a perfect match for us,” Maurice said. “But I didn’t expect that from my team. I didn’t expect them to be perfect today. I just want them to stay in the fight.

“That’s what they did.”

The Leafs must now do the same.

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