In a second-round matchup, few expected, the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs are set to take the ice Tuesday night at Scotiabank Arena. Florida advanced after a rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to stun the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in overtime of Game Seven, while Toronto also won on the road in overtime of Game Six to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. The series win was Toronto’s first time advancing to the second round in the past 19 seasons.
Puck drop is at 7:08 PM ET. The Maple Leafs are favorites at -155 on the moneyline (the Panthers are +135), and the over/under is at 6.5.
Special Teams Will be Critical
Florida and Toronto thrived on the power play in the first round at 25.0% and 28.6%, respectively. However, the penalty kill numbers left much to be desired. The Panthers were atrocious at 59.3%, third-worst of any first round club; though not quite as bad, the Maple Leafs’ 76.2% kill rate was a noticeable drop from their 81.9% regular season rate.
Florida may get left winger Ryan Lomberg back later in the series, but he’s week-to-week with an upper-body injury and will miss Game One. Toronto goaltender Matt Murray is nearing a return following a concussion and practiced with the team on Monday. However, he is unlikely to be in Tuesday’s lineup.
Projected Goaltending Matchup
Florida’s goaltending situation has been all over the place this season. Top prospect Spencer Knight left the team to participate in the NHL’s Player Assistance Program. AHL call-up Alex Lyon impressed down the stretch and earned a few playoff starts, but Sergei Bobrovsky is likely to carry the load the rest of the way. In the postseason, Bobrovsky has a 3-1-0 record, an .891 save percentage, and a 3.94 GAA.
Until Murray returns (and perhaps even once he’s good to go), Toronto will run with Ilya Samsonov, who played in all six of the first-round games. Samsonov is 4-2-0 in the playoffs with a .900 save percentage and a 3.14 GAA.
Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk has been exactly what the Panthers needed and expected when the club acquired him in a trade with the Calgary Flames this offseason. He leads the club with five goals and six assists for 11 points. Carter Verhaeghe has been clutch as well; both of his goals were game winners, including the Game Seven overtime winner against Boston, and his eight points are tied with Brandon Montour for second on the team.
At the other end of the ice, Toronto’s Mitch Marner is also on 11 points (two goals, nine assists) and is one point behind Dallas’ Roope Hintz for the playoff lead. Linemate Auston Matthews (five goals, four assists) is hot on his tail, and don’t sleep on John Tavares, whose overtime goal got the Leafs into the second round.
Prediction and Pick
Toronto was the better team in the first round in terms of goals for and against per game, their special teams’ numbers are superior, and their work in the faceoff dot cannot be discounted. The Maple Leafs are at 51.2% in the postseason, while the Panthers are at 46.2%.
Count on the Leafs to win Game One at home and take the early lead in the series.
Prediction: Maple Leafs 4, Panthers 3