Noah Gregor scored the Toronto Maple Leafs’ only goal in regulation time and then the winner in a shootout in a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena.
Gregor’s wrist shot in the shootout came after officials ruled that Florida’s Evan Rodrigues had double-tapped the puck on what would have been the winning preceding shot.
“I’ve never seen that call, but it’s important we have rules,” Paul Maurice, the Panthers coach, said. “I have no problem with it.”
When the referees reached the decision to nullify the Florida goal, many of the Panthers players had left the bench and Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe was already in the coaches’ room.
Maple Leafs goalie Joseph Woll recorded 37 saves in the triumph. Anthony Stolarz had 31 stops for the Panthers.
At various points, Toronto hit posts, had numerous bad turnovers in its own end, got dumb penalties and went 0-for-5 on the power play.
Max Domi had two shots and nine minutes in penalties and lost a bout with the Panthers’ Sam Bennett.
Nonetheless Toronto ended up on the winning end and improved to 11-6-3. Florida is 13-7-2.
Toronto also lost veteran defenceman Mark Giordano to an upper-body injury in the first period. He never returned and Keefe said he is expected to miss some playing time. The club already has two defenceman – John Klingberg and Timothy Liljegren – on long-term injured reserve.
“We’re getting thin,” Keefe said.
With Giordiano unable to continue, Morgan Rielly logged 30 minutes 30 seconds in ice time.
The Maple Leafs’ next game is Thursday at home against the Seattle Kraken.
The team headed into its 20th game still trying to figure out who and what it is.
“From a management perspective, you always look at how you are playing,” Brad Treliving, Toronto’s general manager, said Monday. “We have been hit and miss. There has been some inconsistency which is a little concerning. You want to play the same way period after period and game after game. We need more from a lot of guys now.”
As a means to boost its offence, Toronto elevated William Nylander to the first line from the second with Auston Matthews and Matthew Knies on Tuesday night, and dropped Mitch Marner to the second with John Tavares and Tyler Bertuzzi.
Matthews entered the night with one goal and two assists over the past seven games; Marner hadn’t scored over that same duration and had just three assists. Nylander had been held off the scoresheet in each of the past two games but leads the club with 27 points.
The shuffle may be big news in Toronto but it didn’t faze the visiting Panthers, who apparently are more accustomed to moving guys around.
“I don’t think it is a major shift,” Maurice, the Florida coach, said before the puck dropped. “We flip guys from line to line to see if we can get something going.”
The changes didn’t seem to help. Toronto was outshot 15-7 in the first period and didn’t have a shot on goal for the last 8 minutes 22 seconds. Marner left the game with 7:52 before the first intermission after he was struck in the face by a shot by Matthew Tkachuk but returned for the second period.
The Panthers went ahead 1-0 with 4:31 left in the first when Kevin Stenlund poked a rebound past Woll.
Toronto finally knotted the score at 1-1 when Gregor scored on a breakaway with 7:06 left in the second period.
Jake McCabe, the Toronto defenceman, had expected a tough battle. The Panthers knocked the Maple Leafs out of the 2023 playoffs in the second round.
“They are an excellent team, kind of taking off from where they left off last year,” McCabe said after a team meeting in the morning. He expected emotions to run high. “Whenever a team ends your season, you get up for games against them pretty easily. The competitiveness and urgency is heightened.”
The Panthers were playing for the second consecutive night after defeating the Senators 5-0 in Ottawa on Monday. In that contest, all 10 skaters that were on the ice were simultaneously ejected in the third period. Between them the clubs combined for 167 minutes in penalties for the night.
“That’s mild,” Maurice said afterward that game, tongue tucked a little in cheek. “It has got to get into the 250-minute range before it gets too squirrelly.
“Sometimes hockey can get like that. It is part of why the game is so darn great. It’s graceful and beautiful and physical and angry all at the same time.”
It was the second of four meetings between the rivals, with Florida having won the first encounter in Sunrise, Fla., in October.
Tuesday was a night where the Maple Leafs hung on and eventually escaped with a win.
“I like that we stayed with it,” Keefe said. “This was a hard-fought game and required a lot from our guys.