SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — There was a time in Paul Maurice’s coaching career when he wanted his teams to immediately move on after a big win and start thinking about the next challenge.
He wanted the Florida Panthers to spend a little extra time savoring their upset of the Boston Bruins in one of the biggest NHL playoff shockers ever, figuring that will help get them ready for the next challenge. The Panthers start Round 2 of the playoffs in Toronto on Tuesday night, facing a Maple Leafs team that ousted perennial power Tampa Bay.
“It’s two sides of the same coin,” Maurice said Monday from Boston, before the team flew to Toronto. “On the one half, that was as emotional a win as our franchise ever had. So, you either say you’re a little light in the tank, or you’re still flying on those fumes. You’re either coming out hot because you’re still rolling or you’re gassed. Either way, Game 1 gets played and Game 2 will have nothing to do with Game 1.”
Getting to Round 2 was super emotional for Florida. It also was for Toronto, where fans spilled into the streets, honking horns, blocking traffic and in one case — true story — smacking the backside of a horse amid the celebration. The smacker was arrested for public intoxication; the horse was unharmed.
Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews called the organization’s first playoff series victory since 2004 “step one of a long journey.”
“A monkey off the back for a lot of us that have been here for quite a long time,” Matthews said. “We know it only gets harder from here.”
The winner will go to the conference finals for the first time in years: Florida got there most recently in 1996, Toronto in 2002.
It’s weirdly fitting that Florida is headed back to Toronto. The Panthers got a win there in March that helped turn their season around and fueled their playoff push, prevailing 3-2 on an overtime goal from Brandon Montour.
They’re 10-4-1 in their last 15 games, starting with that Toronto win, and overcame a 3-1 deficit against the Bruins.
“I’m kind of speechless in the sense of where we’re at now,” Montour said. “But we have all the confidence to keep going.”
Toronto went 3-0-1 against the Panthers this season, with Florida’s win that OT triumph on March 29.
Might want to get a nap or extra shot of espresso going on game days in this series because there could be some late nights: Five of the last six games between the teams have gone to overtime.
All time, they’ve met 98 times — Toronto winning 48, Florida winning 43, and seven games ending in a tie. This marks the first Panthers-Leafs playoff series.
Toronto won 6-2 on March 23; the other games were all one-goal affairs. The Leafs won 5-4 on Jan. 17 and 2-1 on April 20, while the Panthers won 3-2 on March 29.
Matthews had five goals in the four games for Toronto. Montour (2-3-5) had a team-best five points in the season series for the Panthers, while Matthew Tkachuk was held to one goal.
In net, Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky (10 goals on 73 shots) struggled at times. Ilya Samsonov stopped 86 of 90 shots he faced for Toronto.
As one might expect, there’s a good bit of difference between the franchises when it comes to playoff history.
Toronto has played 576 playoff games, Florida 71. The Leafs have won 274 playoff games, Florida 29. Toronto has won the Stanley Cup 13 times, Florida zero.
Florida will be the 26th different franchise Toronto has faced in a playoff series. Toronto will be Florida’s 10th playoff foe.
SUNSHINE STATE LEAFS
Toronto has a chance to do something no visiting team has ever done — win seven games in the state of Florida in one season.
The Leafs are 6-0-1 at Florida and Tampa Bay this season. The six wins match a single-season record for a Sunshine State visitor; the 1995-96 Philadelphia Flyers went 6-5-0 in games at the Panthers and Lightning that season.
Toronto is guaranteed two games at Florida in this series. That’ll be nine within the state this season for the Leafs, tying the 2015-16 New York Islanders for third-most all time. Carolina played 10 in 2020-21; the Flyers played 11 in 1995-96.
Some fans might have had some trouble Monday trying to buy tickets to Games 3, 4 and 6 in Florida, because sales on Ticketmaster “will be restricted to residents of the United States,” according to a statement on the site.
The Panthers plan to end that presale on Tuesday.
“We are giving our local fans first access to tickets to the series for the first 24 hours of the single-game ticket on sale,” the Panthers said, noting that anyone, anywhere could purchase on the secondary markets.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.
Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press