The Toronto Maple Leafs were flying high coming into their second-round matchup against the Florida Panthers and for good reason. They broke a 19-year curse by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that some people thought could make another run at a Stanley Cup.
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Thanks to that win, the Maple Leafs became the betting favorite to not only win in the second round, but to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. Entering Game 1 against the Panthers, the Maple Leafs were a -165 favorite to advance to the Conference Final according to BetMGM. They were also the most heavily bet team to advance in both number of tickets and dollars.
But then Game 1 happened. Panthers 4 Maple Leafs 2. Suddenly, it’s the Panthers that are now the betting favorite to defeat the Maple Leafs in this series. As of the start of Game 2 per BetMGM, the Panthers are a -130 favorite.
Quick Game 1 Recap
Coming off of a historic win against the Boston Bruins, the Panthers were going to come into the new series with a lot of momentum. They’ve had to play playoff hockey for a longer period of time since their spot in the postseason was not guaranteed until the last days of the season.
In Game 1, they took the play to the Maple Leafs.
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Goals by Nick Cousins and Sam Bennett gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead. It was clear the Maple Leafs were in for a different kind of series. Speed and a persistent forecheck were on the menu. The Maple Leafs were not quite ready for the change of style as compared to the Lightning series.
To their credit, the Maple Leafs tied the game thanks to goals by Matthew Knies and Michael Bunting. But then Carter Verhaeghe scored the game-winning goal on a breakaway late in the second period.
Sergei Bobrovsky played one of his best postseason games of his career to make it stand up. Brandon Montour added an insurance goal to make the final score 4-2.
Should Panthers Be Favored Now?
It’s clear the Panthers have become the slight favorite thanks to taking home-ice advantage away from the Maple Leafs. If the Panthers take care of business at home, they will reach the Conference Final.
But as we’ve all seen in these playoffs, home-ice advantage is just not the same as it used to be. The Maple Leafs proved that in the first round securing three of their four wins in the series at Amalie Arena.
Even head coach Sheldon Keefe thought Game 1 would be tough for his team to handle given what their opponent just accomplished. He was right. Now the Maple Leafs have the chance to adjust to the Panthers. With their overall depth, they can make the proper adjustments to better ready themselves to the speed and forecheck the Panthers will bring.
Now will they be able to have an answer for the Matthew Tkachuk line? He was a force in Game 1 in all areas making the Maple Leafs have to account for him while having to defend more than they want. His impact on the game is another factor as to why the Panthers are now favored in the eyes of Vegas.
However all things considered, the Maple Leafs should still be seen as the favorite despite the Game 1 result. One game usually doesn’t flip a series that dramatically. Let’s look at exactly why the Maple Leafs are still in a good position here.
Reasons to Still Believe in the Maple Leafs
First and most obviously, it’s just one game. The Maple Leafs can now make the proper adjustments to their lineup and deployment. Will they go with a faster lineup or go to an 11/7 look like they did in Game 6 against the Lightning?
The Maple Leafs can also find more favorable matchups especially against Tkachuk. This could mean we see Ryan O’Reilly out against that line. With last change, Keefe has the final say in who he wants out in key situations.
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Second, the core players will have plenty to say in the coming days. While the Panthers did a nice job in Game 1 of limiting the big guns of the Maple Leafs, they have to do it for the rest of the series. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander will get their chances. They’re too good and dangerous to be kept off the scoresheet for too long.
The third thing to consider is the goaltending. Bobrovsky was outstanding in Game 1 and is playing his best hockey of the season. But how long will that last?
If Bobrovsky plays this entire series like he did in Game 1, it could be a short stay for the Maple Leafs. But given his struggles during the season and in postseasons past, momentum could be switched at any given moment. If he loses his confidence, then the Panthers will have an important decision to make in net.
These Maple Leafs are not the Maple Leafs of previous seasons. They have leadership and depth that will keep them in this series throughout. In this case, one game shouldn’t sway your confidence in their ability to defeat the Panthers. If the Panthers manage to steal both games in Toronto, then we’re having a different conversation.
Entering Game 2, stick with the Maple Leafs and their ability to eventually win the series. Their upside should not sway your confidence at this point.