Florida Panthers pull off last-minute comeback in Toronto to keep playoff hopes alive
The Florida Panthers’ season was on life support — it has been for most of the last week, frankly — and a final chance to potentially save it came in the form of a power play with a little more than two minutes left Wednesday in Canada.
Even though the Panthers led early, there was barely a minute when they were truly competitive with the Toronto Maple Leafs and yet they were only down by a goal in the final minute, with a 6-on-4 advantage and a chance to steal a point from a Stanley Cup contender in Ontario. Aaron Ekblad launched a bomb from the point, Sam Reinhart tipped just enough of the puck and somehow Florida forced overtime to snap a horribly timed four-game points drought. A few minutes later, Brandon Montour finished off one of the most unlikely wins of the Panthers’ season, beating the Maple Leafs, 3-2, in overtime in Toronto.
The star defenseman pumped his fist and beamed after he finished off an assist from All-Star center Aleksander Barkov. Two plays by Florida’s two star defensemen — Ekblad’s assist with 58.5 seconds left in regulation and Montour’s goal with 3:19 left in overtime — keep the Panthers’ postseason hopes afloat.
The Maple Leafs had the vast majority of shots, possession and scoring chance, but the Panthers got 38 saves from goaltender Alex Lyon and just enough offense to pull off an upset.
With seven games left in the regular season, Florida now trails the Penguins by just one point for the second wild card.
For more than a week, the Panthers had been coughing away any hopes they had at making the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs. Last week, they were in full control of their own destiny after a season-best seven-game points streak and they promptly followed it up with four straight regulation losses — their worst of the season — and their playoff hopes faded fast.
They were on the verge of taking another hit Wednesday. Florida went up 1-0 in the first minute on a goal by forward Anton Lundell, but none of the 18,894 at Scotiabank Arena expected it to last. Goaltender Alex Lyon — filling in for star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who was dealing with an illness — had to make 15 saves in the first period just to keep the Panthers up 1-0 at the first intermission and their lead was gone within the first four minutes of the second period.
Maple Leafs winger Zachary Aston-Reese scored a game-tying goal with 16:47 left in the second and a potential go-ahead goal less than a minute later was wiped away by a successful challenge from coach Paul Maurice. Florida flirted with danger all night and it finally bit them with 13:20 left in the third period when superstar center Auston Matthews scored.
The Panthers waited until the final minutes to finally respond, but they did. Despite getting outshot 40-29, Florida came up with two clutch goals to keep their season alive.