The Toronto Maple Leafs can beat the Panthers in a potential playoff preview

Paul Maurice was asked before Monday’s game how he could stop Auston Matthews.

“Nobody figured it out,” the Panthers head coach responded. “You don’t stop him, you just hope he scores the next night.”

After finding the net for his 60th time over the weekend, the race for the 70th spot is back on for Toronto’s main attraction.

Matthews scored his NHL-leading 61st and 62nd goals of the season, helping the Maple Leafs take a 5-1 lead through two periods before defeating Florida 6-4 in a potential first-round playoff preview.

“Incredible player, (future) Hall of Famer,” said Toronto winger Nick Robertson, who finished with a goal and an assist. “I really hope he lives to be 70. It would be special to be there.”

Matthew Knies also scored a goal and assisted on another for Toronto (43-22-9), while Tyler Bertuzzi and David Kampf rounded out the offense.

Matthews is now on pace to score 69 goals – which would be the most in the NHL since Mario Lemieux scored the same number in 1995-96 – with eight games remaining on the schedule.

“We just came out with a lot of determination,” said Matthews, whose 17 multi-goal performances are the most in a season in the last 30 years. “In the third period I thought we were on our heels a little more than we would have liked.”

Ilya Samsonov made 26 saves for the Leafs – minus five starters, including star winger Mitch Marner (high ankle sprain) for the 11th straight game.

“Interesting for the fans,” said Samsonov, who celebrated his 100th career win, about the exciting final 20 minutes. “We have some nerve for everyone.”

Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and two assists for Florida (47-23-5). Sam Reinhart also scored his 52nd goal of the season for Sam Bennett and Brandon Montour. Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 16 shots in two periods before being caught. Anthony Stolarz made six saves in relief.

“We just don’t do our best at the beginning,” Tarasenko said. “Good counterattack, but not enough.”

The Leafs, who are in third place in the Atlantic Division and would have faced Florida had the playoffs begun Monday, had a chance to clinch a postseason berth for an eighth straight season, but those were elsewhere Results not so good.

With a win, the Panthers could have overtaken the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic.

“We were really good in two periods of play,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “They probably weren’t at their best and we took advantage of that. And then probably a little setback in the third round.”

Toronto, which lost in five games to Florida in the second round of the postseason last spring on the Panthers’ road to the Stanley Cup Final, scored first 13:59 into the first when Robertson scored his 12th on a breakaway scored hits.

“Huge goal, I really liked it,” Keefe said. “He has this game-changing ability.”

Matthews, who became just the ninth player in league history to record two 60-goal seasons when he scored in Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Sabers in Buffalo, doubled the lead with his 61 33 seconds later . Goal.

Samsonov ensured the Panthers had a man advantage when he reached back to shoot a puck from the goal line after intercepting part of Bennett’s initial shot.

Florida got on the field 47 seconds into the second when Montour scored his seventh goal, but Bertuzzi picked up a pass from Matthews on the edge of Bobrovsky’s crease 39 seconds later for his 19th goal.

Then Samsonov made a huge stop on Anton Lundell that sent the crowd at Scotiabank Arena into a frenzy.

Kampf scored his seventh goal for a 4-1 lead at 8:32 after Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves won a puck battle behind Florida’s net.

Knies, who picked up Robertson’s breakaway pass in Toronto’s opener, added his 13th goal after an assist from Pontus Holmberg to make it a 5-1 lead after 40 minutes.

Tarasenko pulled one back at 2:12 of the third period when he scored his 22nd goal from the slot.

Reinhart made it 5-3 with his 52nd goal with 8:02 left before Bennett scored his ninth goal with 1:50 left.

But Matthews sealed the win with his 62nd shot into an empty net after some anxious moments in the closing stages.

“Give them an inch and they’ll take away a yard,” he said of the Panthers. “It’s nice to finish with the win and two points.”

“But of course I want to clean up a few things.”

RIELLY accelerates

Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (upper-body injury) participated in the optional morning skate and could be reinstated to the group for Tuesday’s practice.

Toronto forward Calle Jarnkrok (hand) and defensemen Joel Edmundson (unknown) and Timothy Liljegren (upper body) remain out.


Florida: Visits the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

Toronto: Hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2024.

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