The Toronto Maple Leafs are facing a crucial Game 5 against the Florida Panthers in their Eastern Conference second-round series tonight. The Panthers have a 3-1 series lead, so the Maple Leafs must play another strong game if they hope to stay alive in Round 2.
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To win Game 5, the Maple Leafs need to focus on several key areas, and I’ll take a closer look at what the team must do to turn the tide in their favour.
Key Point One: The Maple Leafs Need to Continue to Play Solid Defense
The Maple Leafs’ defensive play in Game 4 was outstanding. In fact, given that they again scored only two goals for the sixth straight game, the defence played a significant role in the team’s victory.
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While the big guns could go off at any moment, it’s wiser for the Maple Leafs to continue to play the way they know has worked. That means maintaining their defensive structure, blocking shots, and working hard to limit Florida’s scoring opportunities.
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If the Blue and White can stifle the Panthers’ offence and frustrate their top lines, they will gain the upper hand in this game.
Key Point Two: The Maple Leafs Special Teams Have to Click
To win Game 5, the Maple Leafs must take advantage of their special teams. I anticipate a chippy game from Florida, similar to Game 1 of the series, which means Toronto should have some time with the man advantage. They need to make the Panthers pay for any penalty they take.
Led by William Nylander’s goal, the Maple Leafs’ power play showed signs of life in Game 4 and could be a huge advantage for them to generate more scoring chances in Game 5. If the team can take advantage of their opportunities on both sides, they can carry the game.
Key Point Three: The Maple Leafs Must Work as Hard or Harder than the Panthers
Fans have to give it to the Panthers. They just don’t seem to quit. They’ve been down but have shown themselves to be resilient throughout the playoffs, and Maple Leafs must match that intensity.
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In this series, there’s been no room for complacency. Instead, the phrase often used is “a sense of urgency.” Whatever is wrapped up in that sandwich, the Maple Leafs need it.
They need to compete at the same level as they did in Game 4, with unrelenting determination. If they do that, the Maple Leafs will overwhelm the Panthers’ momentum and replace it with their own.
Key Point Four: The Maple Leafs Need to Rally Around Joseph Woll
The Maple Leafs adjusted their play in Game 4 because they were trying to protect their rookie goalie, Joseph Woll. He needs to be their point of focus again. Although Woll stepped up during his first career playoff start and gave the team a solid presence in the crease, his teammates gave him every chance to succeed.
Toronto must continue to help their goalie outplay the wily-old veteran Sergei Bobrovsky. Woll seems confident enough to start with, and given his record this season, he has every reason to be.
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Will the team give him a chance to grow that confidence in Game 5? His performance could turn out to be the inspiration they need to quiet the roaring Panthers. If Woll walls up the net and Bobrovsky begins to blink, that could be the switch that flips this series in favour of the Canadian team.
Key Point Five: The Maple Leafs Simply Need More Scoring
As I noted, the Maple Leafs won Game 4, scoring only two goals. That kind of limited production won’t carry the series. The team needs to improve its offensive production.
Because so much of the offence comes from their defence, the Maple Leafs need to establish a strong forecheck, control the neutral zone, and sustain pressure in the offensive zone. If the team can do that, they’ll create more scoring opportunities.
It’s time the Maple Leafs’ offensive core rises to their potential. That alone could tilt the ice in their favour.
All This in a Must-Win Game?
This is another must-win situation for the Maple Leafs. Logic suggests that the Panthers are not going to lose four games in a row. That said, what logic would have suggested they would win six in a row and come back from a 3-1 deficit against the Boston Bruins to claim the Round 1 series victory?
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If the Maple Leafs want to extend their playoff journey against the Panthers, they need to play solid defence, capitalize on special teams, match Florida’s effort, utilize Woll as the rallying point, and improve their offensive game. That’s a tough row to hoe, but it would increase their chances of winning the series.
We’ll see if they can win one more tonight. If so, there’s another must-win on the way. It doesn’t get any easier.