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Florida goalie holds off Leafs

Sergei Bobrovsky makes 34 saves to give the Panthers the win
Leafs fight to protect Samsonov
Leafs fight to protect Samsonov

The GO train back to Oakville was packed with devoted Maple Leafs fans last night, those who had been in the rink and those who stood in Maple Leaf Square. Subdued, but not dismayed.

Toronto lost the first game, surrendering the home ice advantage for the series. But this was one of those games that confirms how the bounces sometimes go against you. 

The Leafs came out playing crisp hockey. The took the play to Florida for the first half period, and led in shots on goal for the full game. Down two goals, they battled back, starting with a highlight reel goal by rookie Matthew Knies from Matthews and Rielly, his first NHL marker.

This was a goal manufactured with the same presence of mind we saw when he averted a critical goal in the Tampa series. They then drew even with a goal by Bunting from Jarnkrok and O'Reilly.

Then, somehow, our boys just could not get the puck past Bobrovsky, the Panthers’ goalie. They did everything right but the bounces just didn't go their way.

They couldn’t be faulted for waiting for the perfect shot, getting to the net, creating traffic. No, they set up screens and pulled the trigger whenever the opportunity came. It worked twice.

A number of small errors led to missed opportunities. It may even not be fair to call them errors. More than once, when everything seemed aligned for a real chance at a goal, one of the steps on the way there was missed, simply because somehow the Leaf player couldn't find the handle on the puck, or fanned, or lost his footing at a critical moment.

Perhaps nerves were a factor, affecting, as they do, the underdog less than the favourite, in this case Toronto. (Yes, Toronto is favoured. Bookies before this game were giving them the best odds at winning the Cup.)

Down 3-2 and fighting | Marner, Schenn, Matthews, Knies and Rielly attempt a rush
Down 3-2 and fighting | Marner, Schenn, Matthews, Knies and Rielly attempt a rush

These are pretty evenly matched teams, both very good. The score is not a fair reflection of that, or even of the balance of play, which favoured the Leafs, if only marginally. That said, the Leafs are a better team. Over the full series, they should be able to solve the Panthers and Bobrovsky, and move on to the next stage.

For that to happen, the stars will once again have to produce. William Nylander, who in past years has been a bright spot in the playoffs, has yet to make a significant mark. Even though Matthews and Marner got more than the usual ice time, and had some opportunities, they could not capitalize.

The stalwart Oakvillean Tavares was less of a presence than he has been as well. In spite of the four goals, Samsonov played really solidly in net...the score could have been worse without his great positioning and unruffled approach to playing goal.

Keep sending them your good vibes. While everyone was relieved the Leafs did not need to face the Bruins, no one should underestimate the Florida Panthers. They made it clear they think they deserve a shot at Lord Stanley's Cup too.