The Toronto Maple Leafs needed one win, and they got it by beating the Florida Panthers on their home ice by a score of 2-1. The Maple Leafs Game 4 win against the roaring Panthers was crucial. It kept their playoff hopes alive. Barely, but still alive.
To carry home the win, the Maple Leafs created their own good fortune and then capitalized on the bounces and breaks that ensued during the game. That was exemplified by the first goal that came off William Nylander’s stick, bounced off the post, and then deflected off Sergei Bobrovsky’s back and into the net.
The team earned their breaks by executing better in their zone, displaying improved defensive preparation, and sustaining play in the offensive zone. The gritty and determined effort showed their commitment to success. The team now faces three more do-or-die situations to advance in the Round 2 series. Tough, but possible.
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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at news from the game, as well as other news emerging from the bigger organization.
Item One: Joseph Woll Comes Thru With Solid Performance
With Ilya Samsonov injured, Joseph Woll started Game 4 against the Panthers on Wednesday. It was his first start in the playoffs and the first start for any Maple Leafs’ rookie goalie since Felix Potvin started in the playoffs in 1993. Matt Murray sat as Woll’s backup for the game.
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Woll’s regular season had been successful with a regular season record of 6-1-0 record, a goals-against-average (GAA) of 2.16, and a save percentage of .932. That translated into an impressive performance in Game 4, saving 24 shots in the Maple Leafs 2-1 win. His shutout bid was foiled by Sam Reinhart (yet again), with 7:47 remaining in the third period. However, in this game, the Maple Leafs two goals stood up and, adding the young goalie’s solid play, helped the team keep their season alive.
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Given the circumstances, even if Samsonov recovers from his upper-body injury and can play Game 5, I can’t think the Maple Leafs would make any change right now. They’ll likely choose to ride with Woll as far as he can take them. Not only did he play well, but he’s started to reshape the dynamic of the series with his strong performance in this must-win game.
Item Two: Mitch Marner Finally Shows Up
Mitch Marner also played well in Game 4, scoring a goal and adding an assist on the power play. Marner helped Nylander open the scoring in the second period, and he later scored himself to double the lead in the third period. His long-range shot that missed everything on its way to the back of the net was ultimately the game-winning goal.
On the stat sheet, Marner’s overall playoff performance looks good. He has totalled 14 points in 10 games. However, only three of those points have come in the four games against the Panthers. The truth is that Marner’s low production is probably one of the contributing factors to Toronto’s 3-1 series deficit.
Now the team heads home to play Game 5 on Friday.
Item Three: Three Main Keys That Carried the Game 4 for Toronto
Looking at the game, three main things tilted the ice in the Maple Leafs’ favour.
Key One: The Change in Defensive Philosophy
Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe made a notable adjustment on the defensive philosophy. He shifted the team toward a more defensive approach with strong board support to clear the puck. This change aimed to help and support the team’s rookie goalie. However, it also allowed the team to carry more of the play.
Key Two: The Team Was Composed and Committed to Blocking Shots
The Maple Leafs appeared more composed as a team. Again, it seemed the effort focused on helping their young goalie. Indeed, it probably did. The defensive play limited the Panthers’ scoring chances, particularly with the Maple Leafs blocking shots.
That doesn’t mean that Woll wasn’t tested. He was. But he also stood the test by making several solid stops to maintain his team’s positive momentum.
Key Three: William Nylander Began to Carry the Play
Nylander played just like Nylander can play. Among the Core Four, he stood out on Wednesday. He was winding up with the puck, circling back into the defensive zone to enter the offensive zone with speed. And he was getting to the net.
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He finally got the monkey off his back with his fortunate bounce, second-period goal that finally broke the scoring deadlock. Thanks to Micheal Bunting’s great puck recovery on the play. Bunting has been playing well, too. No funny stuff, just wiping the blood off his face at the right time.
Item Four: Dennis Hildeby Rises to Third Goalie
The Maple Leafs called up Dennis Hildeby from the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Toronto Marlies to the main roster on Wednesday. He’ll become the emergency backup option with Samsonov being unavailable.
However, it isn’t anticipated that Hildeby will see any playing time during the Maple Leafs’ playoff run.
Item Five: Prospect Ty Voit Has Been Reassigned to the Marlies
The Maple Leafs reassigned 19-year-old prospect Ty Voit from the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Sarnia Sting to the AHL’s Marlies on Wednesday. Voit had an impressive season in the OHL, scoring 24 goals and adding a whopping 81 assists (for 105 points) in 67 games during the 2022-23 season.
He also had a great playoff series, scoring three goals and adding 13 assists (for 16 points) in 16 games during Sarnia’s postseason. Voit was chosen by the Maple Leafs in the fifth round (153rd overall) pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
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Last week the Marlies advanced to the AHL’s North Division Finals by beating the Utica Comets. Tonight the Marlies host the Rochester Americans in Game 1 of Round 3 of the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs. Voit’s AHL reassignment will give him a chance to join the Marlies for their playoffs.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
I’d look for the play on Friday’s Game 5 to get chippier. It depends on how much the Panthers see themselves on the ropes. But it’s a team that can turn things ugly if they feel they need to do so.
Luke Schenn’s crucial defensive play in the final minutes helped carry the team to win by helping to prevent a potential late goal for the Panthers. He’s been playing well for the team. If it does get more physical, look for him to play a key role.