TORONTO — Sergei Bobrovsky made 34 saves and Matthew Tkachuk had three assists as the Florida Panthers survived a blown 2-0 lead to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 on Tuesday in Game 1 of their best-of-seven second-round playoff series.
Sam Bennett, with a goal and an assist, Carter Verhaeghe, Nick Cousins and Brandon Montour provided the rest of the offence for Florida, which roared back from a 3-1 deficit to stun the record-setting Boston Bruins with three straight victories and take that first-round matchup in seven games. Aleksander Barkov had two assists.
Matthew Knies, with his first NHL goal, and Michael Bunting replied for Toronto.
The Leafs ended a generation of misery Saturday when John Tavares scored in overtime of Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning to see the Original Six franchise advance in the post-season for the first time since 2004.
Ilya Samsonov stopped 24 shots for the Leafs, who host Game 2 with the Panthers on Thursday before the series shifts to South Florida.
Tied 2-2 late in the second period with the Leafs pushing, the never-say-die visitors — the Bruins learned that first-hand — responded to silence the towel-waving crowd at Scotiabank Arena.
Verhaeghe, who scored the dramatic winner in Game 7 against Boston on Sunday, took a pass from Anthony Duclair and gave his team the lead for good when he beat Samsonov on a breakaway at 17:47 for his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Toronto had a couple opportunities to tie it in the third, but never really threatened Bobrovsky before Montour blasted a one-timer on a delayed penalty at 12:24 after Leafs defenceman Jake McCabe felled Tkachuk in the offensive zone.
Bobrovsky then denied William Nylander on a terrific toe stop with just over a minute left in regulation on Toronto’s best chance to get back within one.
The Leafs hit the ice in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since Jeremy Roenick scored in OT of Game 6 for the Philadelphia Flyers to eliminate Toronto on May 4, 2004 — a stretch of 18 years, 11 months and 28 days.
After the home side had a number of terrific looks on two power plays inside a ready-to-erupt rink, the Panthers struck when Cousins scored his first on a rebound at 9:25 of the opening period.
Bailed out by one of his posts earlier in the period, Samsonov then made big stops on Anton Lundell and Barkov.
Bobrovsky made a couple huge saves off Auston Matthews on a Leafs power play in the second before Florida went up 2-0 at 7:58 when Bennett tipped a point shot past Samsonov that initially hit the stick of Knies.
The Toronto rookie made amends 11 seconds later when he scored his first professional goal on a highlight-reel effort between his skates with his back to Florida’s goal after Bobrovsky made the initial save.
Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn then rocked Tkachuk with a big hit in the neutral zone before Bunting, who was suspended three games in the first round and made a healthy scratch for another, scored his first of the post-season at 14:51 following an inch-perfect pass from Calle Jarnkrok.
Toronto kept up the physical play from the blue line when Morgan Rielly rocked Eric Stall and McCabe thumped Duclair.
But the latter got the last laugh when sprung Verhaeghe later in the shift to put the Panthers up 3-2.
LEAFS NATION TRAVELS
The Panthers did their best to keep Toronto fans out of FLA Live Arena for Games 3 and 4 of the series with a ticketing policy that required a U.S. address for purchases during the first 24 hours seats were on sale.
“I doubt it,” McCabe said Tuesday morning when asked if that would keep patrons wearing blue and white out of the building.
Apart from scoring the OT goal that gave the Leafs their first series win in 19 years, the Toronto captain and his wife recently welcome their third child, a daughter named Rae.
“An absolute whirlwind for him,” Toronto centre Ryan O’Reilly said before the game.
MAURICE LOOKS BACK
Panthers head coach Paul Maurice was behind the bench when the Carolina Hurricanes topped the Leafs in the 2002 Eastern Conference final.
“I don’t think we gave up a five-on-five goal in that series,” he said. “That was back in when you could get away with clutching and grabbing.
“We were really good at it.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2023.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press