After mostly underwhelming as the Leafs fell into a 3-0 hole in their second-round series with the Florida Panthers, Toronto's 'core four' of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander impressed in a scrappy 2-1 win in Game 4.
- I was convinced they were going to lose. I thought they were going to get swept legitimately. I thought the brooms would be out. But they didn't. They won. They won the game 2-1. They forced game five.
And it's interesting because the things that they did in this game were the things that they needed to do. I don't think that this is just like a, oh, Florida kind of took their foot off the gas or anything, because, you know, at the end of the day, the Panthers still outchance and-- outchance the Leafs. You know, they're still heavy on the floor check, you know, their strong physicality. They've still got all of those things.
But the Leafs responded with literally playing their best game of the series. The defensive responsibility in front of Woll was stellar. If you total all the blocked shots, everyone on the Leafs, they came up to about at least over 20 blocks to the Panthers' like nine or eight. I don't even think they hit double digits.
They were protecting the front of the net. They weren't being too cute and fancy-- again, the mistakes that they were made in games two, three, and four. There were some moments where players hung on to the puck a little too long and moments where they would fan on shots and fan on passes. But for the most part, they were secure, they were structured, and it was boring.
Not like-- not many crazy offensive chances, which, again, we're not used to seeing from the Leafs. But that's the way that they needed to play. And it pulled off. The Core Four showed up, which was a complete changeup from game three, where it was just Nylander. Now everyone showed up to the party.
John Tavares gets the first shot on goal, which would end up leading up to his, you know, five total shots. Auston Matthews gets four shots on his own. A couple of them were legitimate high danger scoring chances, but the Panthers did a good job of closing-- closing those chances off. And in fact, they've actually done a pretty good job of closing off on Matthews overall. As soon as he gets the puck in the offensive zone, there's like two or three Panthers on him. But he's still finding ways to create.
Mitch Marner scores the game-winning goal, what would end up being the game-winning goal, with a long shot from the point that beat them out through traffic, that beat Bobrovsky, which is sick. And William Nylander has been on it all series. Again, he was the only one who stood up in game-- game three. He was in control of the puck, in control-- in control of play.
He was actually in front of the net a couple of times as a screener, which is awesome. And his goal in the power play kind of started off the offensive chances for the Leafs overall. So it's great to see that-- that taking place. And again, if the Leafs are going to end up pulling this off, then they need the Core Four, as well as the entire team overall, to be in it for the long haul.
And finally, Timothy Liljegren must stay. Sheldon? Sheldon. I know you've had this back and forth with Liljegren. Sometimes he's in, and sometimes he's not-- he's not. Keep him in. He makes the team better, defensively and offensively.
Like, seeing him play off of Matthews and Marner in the offensive zone, it is such a treat. And again, he-- his decision making and his speed has increased as he's gotten more mature and as he's gotten used to the league. I don't think the playoff physicality is phasing him a little-- at all. I think he-- in the first round, there were some moments where, you know, he would kind of get checked heavy and lose the puck. But I think he's finally kind of, you know, found his stride. And again, he makes the team better and more dangerous.
I don't know what's going to happen with the rest of the lineup. I don't know if Sheldon Keefe continues going on with this 11-7 format, because it's impacted Giordano's minutes. He didn't even hit double digits in-- double digits in this game. But I think whatever changes you make to the blue line, it can't come at the cost of Timothy Liljegren.. He has been a great asset.
I think he made McCabe look better after they've been-- after he's been split up from TJ Brodie. He is a player that definitely needs to stay, not only for game five if they pull off the rest of the comeback for that. But I think for the rest of the playoffs, he's earned his spot.