SUNRISE, FL – In front of a sold-out crowd at the newly-named Amerant Bank Arena, the Florida Panthers looked to get on a hot streak after dropping their first two games of the season against Minnesota and Winnipeg, respectively. Having recently taken down New Jersey and now facing the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Panthers triumphed in their home opener.
Unfinished business. pic.twitter.com/pcWdEcF87l
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) October 19, 2023
After the spectacle of raising their 2022 Eastern Conference Championship banner, the attention turned to “unfinished business” as the Cats got out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, and never gave it up despite the best efforts of Toronto in an Eastern Conference semifinals rematch, with Florida edging them out by a final score of 3-1.
“We were good in the first. The second period, with all the power plays and some of the transitions, the game got bogged down and I didn’t think we were very good,” said head coach Paul Maurice postgame. “To be able to come out of that and be good in the third is hard to do in this league.”
Theatrics Late In The First Period
As the game began, the fans were raucous and the Panthers were the hot team to start, peppering Toronto’s net but with no goals to come out of it. With six shots on goal in the first 11 minutes, Toronto had to spend most of their time deflecting shots.
Incidentally, “WE WANT FLORIDA” chants broke out around that side of the ice not long after, fittingly against the same team whose fans thought the Panthers would be a cakewalk in the second round of the playoffs. The Cats won that series in five games of work.
Panthers fans chanted "We Want Florida" to mock Toronto after last year's playoffs 👀😅 pic.twitter.com/hN0MPXfxg0
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) October 19, 2023
Even despite a tripping penalty on Toronto, Florida could not take advantage and both teams appeared to be in a stalemate heading into intermission. But with three minutes to go, the Cats offense was at their best and the Leafs ran out of answers.
Kevin Stenlund, a new addition to the team having recently played for Winnipeg but with most of his career spent at Columbus, made quick work of a solo breakaway with a wrister that found the back of the net for his first career goal as a Panther to give the team a 1-0 lead.
As things REALLY came down to the wire with seconds to go, the Cats found themselves on the attack. After Aleksander Barkov and Sam Reinhart took rapid-fire shots, Oliver Ekman Larsson took his turn with a snapshot that Toronto’s goalie couldn’t stop, earning his first goal as a Panther. The newcomer from both Vancouver and Arizona is fitting well into Florida’s system and gave the Cats a 2-0 lead heading into intermission.
OEL with no time to waste pic.twitter.com/9V45B7MPPw
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) October 19, 2023
Things Get Tense Here On Out
What began as a relatively clean contest turned sloppy in the second period, with a pair of penalties called on both teams (Slashing & hooking for Florida, holding the stick for Toronto) in the early window.
While the Panthers’ struggles on the power play unfortunately continued, the Maple Leafs took care of the man-advantage on their third shot on a faceoff, getting by Sergei Bobrovsky for the only time to cut the lead to 2-1.
The penalties continued, with a string of interference, hooking, and tripping penalties called on both teams as the second period closed. A tip-in shot by the Leafs was saved by Bobrovsky as the buzzer rang, and the damage was left at a single goal given up.
Period #3 came and went quickly, with Florida having a few potential goals being either saved or deflected off the post. But with 10 minutes left, the Leafs turned up the pressure on offense, but the Cats’ defense did their job and kept them at bay.
With an empty net with minutes to go, and a tripping penalty called on Barkov, Toronto’s last gasp fell just short, and an empty netter from Reinhart with one second left was the icing on the cake as the Panthers held on with a 3-1 win.
The Leafs Crunched, Once Again
Funnily enough, Toronto was definitely the more aggressive team with more shots and hits on the night, along with fewer giveaways. However, Florida acted when it mattered, with more faceoff wins, blocked shots, and above all else, goals on the board.
Reinhart had another busy night, providing an assist for the second goal of the day, landing his own with less than a second to spare in the game, totaling four shots.
Bobrovsky had another masterclass night at the net, with 29 total saves including five on the power play. He also recorded his 107th career win as a starter, which puts him in second place all-time for the Panthers, only behind Roberto Luongo who has 230.
An unbelievable accomplishment.
Congrats, Bob! 👏 pic.twitter.com/M0jcvsx7uj
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) October 20, 2023
With the win, the Panthers improve to 2-2-0 and have a perfect record at home for the moment. That’ll be challenged on Saturday, October 21st at 7 pm as they host the 2-2-0 Vancouver Canucks.
📸Credit: Florida Panthers