3 reasons for Maple Leafs’ playoff series loss to Panthers

The Toronto Maple Leafs‘ season came to an end at the hands of the Florida Panthers in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Friday night.

Despite rallying back from a 2-0 deficit in Game 5 and forcing overtime, a game-winning goal from Nick Cousins lifted Florida to the 4-1 series win. So while the Maple Leafs may have gone slightly deeper in the playoffs than previous years, the loss leaves the team with major questions heading into the offseason.

Below, we look at some of the reasons that led to yet another early exit.

Lack of Scoring

To be honest, all three of these points are going to focus around Toronto’s inability to score.

But for a team whose identity is tied to high-powered offense, they had a very difficult time scoring in the second round. The Maple Leafs scored just two goals in all five games of the series. This comes after the team averaged 3.4 goals per game during the regular season and scored 23 goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning across six first-round games.

The power play was fine, but not as much of a factor as it could’ve been. Toronto went just 2-for-11 on the man advantage, while the Panthers had three goals on their nine opportunities, winning the special team battle.

To get wins with such little offense, the team has to be pretty much locked down defensively. However, considering the Maple Leafs’ opponent, this was never going to be a defense-based series. Florida scored at even a higher rate than Toronto in the regular season, ranking sixth in the NHL.

While the Maple Leafs have shed their image as a poor defensive team from past years, they were still prone to lapses at times throughout the series. Florida capitalized and the Maple Leafs couldn’t recover.

It’s not like the talent wasn’t there for Toronto. Their forward group was well-built, and their defensemen were capable of chipping in offensively.

But speaking of talent, that was a whole other issue for the Maple Leafs.

Underwhelming Performance from Top Stars

You could argue Toronto did outplay the Panthers through major stretches of the series. Aside from Game 3, the Maple Leafs did put together pretty good efforts and had their chances. But once again, the questions regarding Toronto’s early exit center around their top stars. Auston Matthews didn’t have a goal in the series, registering just two points. Mitch Marner had a single goal and three points. John Tavares had a single point.

William Nylander was the best of the bunch, with a clutch goal in Game 5 while being the only player to score multiple goals in the series. Even he had just three points altogether.

It’s difficult to call it a ‘poor performance’ outright, because the group did have their chances. While the likes of Matthews and Marner were invisible at times, they also did generate opportunities for themselves through a lot of the series.

But for as many opportunities as they were generating, they just couldn’t capitalize. To have their top forwards underperforming, as a team that relies on it’s high-end offense, it left them in a bad spot.

For as good of a team as the Maple Leafs built around the ‘Core Four’, so long as the group isn’t producing when it matters, Toronto won’t find success. Game 5 could mark a shift for the team’s current core, entering what could be an eventful offseason.

Sergei Bobrovsky’s Resurgence

A lot of blame will fall on the Maple Leafs’ stars – and rightfully so – but Sergei Bobrovsky deserves huge praise.

After signing his monster contract with the Panthers in 2019, Bobrovsky’s run with the team has been mostly underwhelming. He joined the team as a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, but at times since then, he has barely looked like a starting goalie. Through 185 regular-season games with team across four years, he holds just a .905 save percentage.

However, he certainly showed up when it mattered. Throughout the series, Bobrovsky stopped 164 of 174 shots, registering an outstanding .943 save percentage. In almost every game, the Maple Leafs had their chances, but they just couldn’t beat Bobrovsky.

You could say the Maple Leafs losing a goaltending battle is predictable, and putting more focus on finding a high-end starter should’ve been a priority for Kyle Dubas and team management. At the same time, Toronto generally got decent goaltending.

Down to playing basically their No. 3 goalie, Joseph Woll was perfectly fine. The rookie netminder came in and outperformed expectations, posting a .915 save percentage in the playoffs. Even Ilya Samsonov really wasn’t the issue for Toronto before his injury.

It’s often a bit of an excuse to use a hot goalie at the other end as a reason for a loss. Especially over a long series, you have to find ways to be able to score. With the firepower the Maple Leafs had, you can’t blame the goaltending battle.

But credit to Bobrovsky, who ended up looking like the Vezina-caliber goalie he was a few years ago and stole games for the Panthers.

The post 3 reasons for Maple Leafs’ playoff series loss to Panthers appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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