Tuesday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers had the intensity of a playoff contest.
Panthers' goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made impressive stops throughout the night, goals were overturned and a total of 14 penalties were called throughout the night.
The Leafs would eventually squeeze out the win in overtime with William Nylander's second goal of the game, ending a wild and dramatic battle between the Atlantic Division rivals. Leafs backup Ilya Samsonov came in for starter Matt Murray midway through the game and shutout the Panthers on 11 shots to earn the comeback win.
Despite the flurry of goals, those both on the ice and in the stands were mostly preoccupied by the physicality and questionable refereeing decisions of the contest.
Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe was left flabbergasted when Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren was given a penalty for attempting to slide Samsonov's loose stick back towards him, even though it was teammate Pierre Engvall who made the play. Panthers forward Sam Bennett pushed the stick away from the crease, which would normally warrant a penalty in itself.
Panthers’ tough guy Radko Gudas managed to get under the Maple Leafs’ skin on a number of occasions. At the end of the first frame, the Florida defenseman was assessed a minor unsportsmanlike conduct against Engvall, whom he shoved into his own net, only to yank him out before heading to the penalty box.
The penalty assessed to Gudas would cost the Panthers, with Alex Kerfoot tying the game on the man advantage.
During the second period, Gudas wanted more of Engvall, dropping low and sticking his hip out to hit him. As the winger tumbled to the ice, Zach Aston-Reese rushed to Gudas to answer for the dangerous hit.
Aston-Reese pushed the blueliner around and eventually dropped the gloves, hoping to entice Gudas to fight. However, the latter was simply baiting Aston-Reese and ducked down as the Maple Leafs’ forward attempted to land a few punches.
Since Gudas did not engage, Aston-Reese was the lone player sent to the penalty box for roughing, but the Maple Leafs managed to kill the power play.
The bruising defenseman was not done there. As soon as Aston-Reese got out of the box, Gudas welcomed him back on the ice with a hard shove into the post next to Bobrovsky. Aston-Reese remained down until the officials called a charging penalty on the Panthers’ defenseman.
Gudas’ second penalty of the contest led to another Maple Leafs’ power-play goal when superstar Auston Matthews found the back of the net with his 22nd tally of the season with just three seconds to go in the second frame.
When asked about the first two periods of the game, Panthers forward Matthew Tkachuk was left with few words to describe the the contest up to that point.
“There’s a lot going on. We’re going to need our best third to win this one tonight” he laughed.
William Nylander was brought down on a breakaway in the third frame, giving him the chance to tie things up at three apiece with a penalty shot. He failed to convert on the penalty shot, but he was the one who tied the game only minutes later by deflecting the puck with his head.
The Panthers seemed to get away with a number of no-calls throughout the night, including this blatant bit of roughing in front of their own goal late in the game.
Nylander then put the game to bed with a nifty move to the net, placing the puck past Bobrovsky to give Toronto the 4-3 win, capping off one of the wildest games of the NHL season.
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