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Glimmer of hope

Leafs trust rookie goalie and finally beat Florida
Toronto Maple Leafs | Photo by Luis Fallas on Unsplash
Toronto Maple Leafs | Photo by Luis Fallas on Unsplash

"Charging is the action where a player takes more than two strides or travels an excessive distance to accelerate through a body check for the purpose of punishing the opponent." Rule 607.

Anyone who watched the game last night, after reading that rule, cannot be in any doubt that Florida's Goudas dangerously charged David Kâmpf of the Leafs. Yet, he was not penalized. Nor can anyone who watched have much difficulty knowing that Michael Bunting was bleeding after the high stick, nor therefore understand why there wasn't a double minor on the play.

Our observant fan is also left scratching his head that a slide to block a shot causing a player to fall forward should put Alex Kerfoot in the penalty box.

In spite of what must have seemed unfair officiating, in spite of being behind 3 games to 0 and being basically written off by pundits (and even by many bleed-leaf-blue fans trying to avoid prolonged agony), the Toronto Maple Leafs played a disciplined game of playoff hockey to beat the Panthers 2-1 in regulation time.

The game was end-to-end playoff hockey. The shots on goal were even, but that doesn't tell the story. Florida had 12 more shots blocked before getting to the goal than the Leafs, at 21-9. Florida pressed its attack, but the Leafs simply outworked them. Not a sentence we could apply to the first three games, as close as they were.

This night, the Leafs won more face-offs, gave more hits, and blocked more shots than their opponent. A lot of those shots were blocked by forwards. Everyone was playing both ends of the rink, backchecking and forechecking consistently and effectively.

With rookie Joseph Woll in net (who stopped one more shot than the almost-invincible Bobrovsky for Florida), the Leafs closed ranks and played disciplined, positional hockey when they didn't have the puck.

When they had it, their power forwards attacked aggressively. Nylander, who was one of the few bright lights in last year's playoffs, and has been working hard without result in this round, scored the first goal, a few minutes into the second period. It was not pretty.

No, it was a playoff goal that hit the post and then the back of the goalie before going in. But he lifted it up with the kind of instinctively right decision that increases the odds of getting the puck into the net in the chaos that is playoff-elimination-game-in-the-crease par for the course. Bunting and Marner both earned assists. 

Oakville's Tavares had some great chances but was stopped. Matthews too was at both ends of the rink and was held off by Bobrovsky, who played his routine spectacular game.

Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff

But the Leafs went into the second intermission up 1-0 after a very strong second period. In the third, Marner fired a one timer on a pass from McCabe to make it 2-0. Sam Reinhart, he of the overtime winner in game 3, brought the game within 1, but the Leafs were relentless in keeping puck control and in helping out Woll, who was sharp and calm in his first NHL playoff outing. 

This was a really strong balanced game by the Leafs, firing on all cylinders, against a Florida team with momentum on home ice. The odds are not good of coming back from a 3-1 deficit, but the Leafs' chances of coming back are a lot better than they were yesterday.

And they know it can be done: goodness knows they have been on the other end of comebacks of that scale, both from Boston and Montreal. 

Tonight will have restored a little of their self-belief. It will also have shown that the tactic of making sure the home front is covered and protected, in order to liberate the offensive forces to attack, can work. Game 5 is in Toronto on Friday. 

It isn't over until it's over.