Maple Leafs fans have high hopes as Toronto lives to see another playoff game

·3 min read

TORONTO — Maple Leafs fans who gathered in downtown Toronto to watch the hockey team battle for NHL playoff survival were rewarded for their faith and loyalty on Wednesday night.

Hundreds of fans in Maple Leaf Square outside the Leafs' home rink Scotiabank Arena were jubilant after the team held out a 2-1 win against the Florida Panthers to cut their second-round series deficit to 3-1 and stave off elimination.

Ridha Ali, who watched the game in the crowd with a group of friends, said the difference maker in Game 4 was better teamwork and more aggression.

"If we want to keep going on past the rounds, we have to keep playing the same way we played this game," said Ali. "In comparison to games we played before, no one was as aggressive as we were this game, and that's what got us to win."

The Leafs' star-forward quartet of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and captain John Tavares faced media criticism after the first three losses in the series for their lack of action and combined zero goals.

However, the team's so-called "Core Four" of high-paid talent showed up Wednesday, with Marner and Nylander netting goals for the Leafs, snapping seven-game goal droughts.

Donning a Leafs jersey and blue wig, self-described superfan Matthew Fawcett said the star players stepped up when it counted.

"It was true what Marner said, they don't listen to the outside noise, they focus on what's inside," he said. "They played very strong, strategic. It's just one game at a time."

Rookie goaltender Joseph Woll also made 24 saves in his first post-season start after Ilya Samsonov was sidelined due to injury. Leafs fan Shah See Hashmi said he thinks Woll is still getting adjusted and could make an impact in the remainder of the series.

"It was a good starting off for Joseph Woll in net, it will build his confidence," said Hashmi.

The Maple Leafs are looking to become just the fifth team in NHL history to win a playoff series after being down 3-0, and Wednesday night's win forces the series back to Toronto for Game 5 on Friday.

This is the furthest the Leafs have gone in the playoffs in almost two decades, having overcome a painful post-season past by downing the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round to advance for the first time since 2004.

Despite the Panthers' strong series lead in the teams' best-of-seven matchup and the prospect of elimination looming over the Leafs, fans remain in high hopes the team can pull off the nearly impossible.

"They made it past the first round in the first time in forever. I think they can do it, they've just got to play more aggressive," said Hashmi. "If they continue it on, I'm sure they can make history."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2023.

Tyler Griffin, The Canadian Press