William Nylander scored the tying goal in the third period and the winner with 3:07 left in overtime on Tuesday as the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied for a 5-4 victory over the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto overcame a 4-2 deficit and a terrible goaltending performance by Matt Murray to beat its Atlantic Division opponent. It had lost its last two games in the division to Detroit and Boston.
Murray was pulled with 18 minutes 19 seconds left in the second period after he allowed his fourth goal on eight shots. Ilya Samsonov took over from there and shut down Florida, which had played Monday in Buffalo and looked more and more exhausted as the contest played on. Samsonov stopped 11 shots as Toronto piled up a 37-19 advantage overall.
The goals by Nylander increased his team lead to 24. Auston Matthews scored his 22nd, Alexander Kerfoot his seventh, and Dryden Hunt his third for Toronto.
Toronto improved to 27-11-7 and is second in the division, 11 points behind the Bruins and four ahead of the third-place Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was a crazy game that saw Florida (21-21-4) take nine penalties and Toronto six. At one point, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe yelled from the bench at officials, asking, “What the hell is going on?” At another, Paul Maurice, the Panthers’ head coach, also screamed at the refs.
There was a good measure of bad blood throughout with pushing and shoving and fists thrown. Michael Bunting got huge cheers after he rushed to defend Matthews after the Maple Leafs’ star centre was cross-checked three times by Marc Staal.
The meeting was the first of four this season between the teams. The next will be on March 23 at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, Fla.
Toronto went 1-0-2 against the Panthers during 2021-22, winning its lone matchup on home ice. The Maple Leafs came in with a 15-3-4 record at home this season, tied for the third-best in the league.
The Maple Leafs lost a tough 4-3 decision on Saturday night at TD Garden against the Bruins in a game in which Murray was not terribly sharp. He allowed four goals then on 30 shots and looked totally lost on Tuesday.
It was the first time this season that Toronto had pulled its goalie, with the exception for injury.
“Clearly we needed to change something,” Keefe said afterward. “Ilya came in and did a good job and gave us life.”
Murray was shaky from the start, allowing three goals on the first seven shots. First he was beaten on a sharp wrister by former Maple Leafs farmhand Carter Verhaeghe, then shorthanded by Anton Lundell after a nice save on a breakaway by Aleksander Barkov, and then on a lengthy wrist shot from a tough angle by defenceman Josh Mahura. The goal was the 21st for Verhaeghe, the sixth for Lundell and the fourth for Mahura.
Toronto scored twice on 14 shots in the first period. Left winger Hunt scored as he drove to the net off a slick pass from Morgan Rielly, and later Kerfoot stuffed a rebound past Sergei Bobrovsky on a power play. Bobrovsky hung tough and finished with 32 saves in the defeat.
Florida entered the contest having taken 219 penalties – more than any team in the league – and did itself no favours by being assessed for four more in the first period and five in the frantic second. Thirty-four seconds into the third Nylander was awarded a penalty shot after being dragged down by Gustav Forsling on a breakaway but Nylander flipped a backhand over Bobrovsky and missed.
Barkov had put Florida ahead 4-2 early in the second but Matthews cut the margin to 4-3 with three seconds remaining in the period.
The win was the first for the Maple Leafs in 11 tries when trailing after two periods. Florida had won 19 of 23 when it entered the final 20 minutes with a lead.
Nylander also had an assist and now has 50 points.
“He was a difference-maker for us,” Keefe said.
Rasmus Sandin and Pontus Holmberg are ill with the flu and missed the game. The club’s defence is now without Sandin, T.J. Brodie who is out with a rib injury, and Jake Muzzin, Carl Dahlstrom and Victor Mete, all of whom are on long-term injured reserve.
The team announced on Monday that forward Nick Robertson has shoulder surgery and that the 21-year-old is expected to be out of action for six months. Robertson sustained an injury after taking a hit from Kings defenceman Matt Roy on Dec. 8.
“We wanted to give it some time to rehab and see how it was going to go and reassess it from there,” Keefe said earlier in the day. “Over time it was determined that surgery was the best option for him.”
The start to Robertson’s career has been plagued by injuries. In four brief stints with the Maple Leafs the winger has four goals and four assists in 35 games.
“I am encouraging him that he has found ways each time to bounce back despite the adversity he has had and still show progression in his game,” Keefe said. “It has not seemed to stall him in terms of his development.”
Toronto’s next game is Thursday at home against the Winnipeg Jets. After that, the team travels to Montreal to play the Canadiens on Saturday.