The 66 seconds that put the Maple Leafs' season in serious jeopardy
The Toronto Maple Leafs' chances of escaping the second round of the NHL playoffs plummeted in a short period of time on Thursday.
After making it out of the first round for the first time in 19 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now unlikely to punch their ticket out of the second.
That is not some kind of hot take about the quality of team, and the word "unlikely" is not a definitive. It's just a statement of fact that the vast majority of squads that go down 2-0 in an NHL playoff series end up on the golf course in short order.
The New Jersey Devils already bucked that trend in these playoffs, but in the teams with a 2-0 lead in the NHL postseason have a 343-55 series record all-time. If you're a Florida Panthers fan, you've got a valid reason to feel pretty good at the moment.
Early in Game 2, the Maple Leafs seemed extremely unlikely to find themselves in the predicament they've arrived in now.
Toronto was clearly the better team in the first period. It outshot Florida 16-9 with 63.64% of the scoring chances, 77.78% of the high-danger chances, and 72.79% of the expected goals. That underlying advantage resulted in a 2-1 score.
A one-goal lead is hardly insurmountable, but the Maple Leafs entered the second period with control over the game. They were not guaranteed a 1-1 split by any means, but their odds of pulling out a win looked strong.
Then in the first 66 seconds of the second period the game — and Toronto's chances of a deep playoff run — changed significantly.
It started with an icing off the stick of Jake McCabe.
This was a very basic play gone slightly wrong.
The puck was meant to be deflected into Florida's zone by William Nylander, but it didn't quite reach his stick. It's hard to say which player was at fault, but it was a low-ceiling, medium-risk maneuver. The best-case scenario was a dump-and-chase entry and the worst is an icing call.
After the icing there was still very little reason for alarm as the Maple Leafs' line wasn't tired in the slightest — and Toronto trusts Ryan O'Reilly in a defensive-zone faceoff scenarios.
Toronto was able to clear the zone promptly, but Nylander's inability to stickhandle through the neutral zone resulted in a rush the other way.
This is precisely the sort of play that Maple Leafs fans often get on Nylander for, and there isn't a good defence for a turnover like that.
That said, the opportunity that came out of the misplay was not particularly dangerous. Nylander's error was magnified by the fact Ilya Samsonov conceded a goal on a bad-angle shot coming in with minimal velocity, awkwardly stabbing at with it his glove.
The combination of Nylander and Samsonov's miscues had the game tied 19 seconds into the second period. The second goal required more individual mistakes coming together at once.
After the Auston Matthews line failed to gain control in Florida's zone after a basic dump-and-chase forecheck, Florida tried a dump in of its own that Michael Bunting went to retrieve.
It's fair to say the Maple Leafs winger handled the situation as poorly as possible. The 27-year-old was slow to react and when he retrieved the puck, he casual dropped it back — right to Matthew Tkachuk — then toppled to the ground in the ensuing battle.
Solid stick work from Matthews and a crisp outlet pass from McCabe put Mitch Marner in a position to escape the zone.
Instead of chipping the puck ahead, the winger mades the confounding choice to pass the puck back to his centre despite the fact Eetu Luostarinen was bearing down on him:
That put Matthews in an extremely tough spot and he was unable to chip the puck past Luostarinen in a split-second reaction play.
Florida was able to start a counterattack — and the Panthers converted on another chance to earn a lead they wouldn't relinquish:
The Maple Leafs were a mess in that sequence.
Both Bunting and Matthews attacked Anton Lundell, leaving the team in a 3-on-2 situation on the back end. McCabe didn't do much to pressure Tkachuk's pass, and there was no one left to pick up Gustav Forsling.
A lot of things had to go wrong for the Maple Leafs to let the Panthers off the mat in just over a minute.
Their best neutral-zone puck handler had to turn the puck over in the middle of the ice, their Selke Trophy candidate had to make an awful decision in his own zone, and the goaltender that led the charge for them in their Game 6 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning had to concede a goal NHL netminders simply don't allow.
That combination of factors put them in a hole they weren't able to dig of in Game 2. As a result, the series deficit they're looking at is one that few teams overcome.