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Florida Panthers – Underdog to Favorite

The Cats may not be dogs anymore.

(Frank Gunn / Associated Press)

Sometimes, the teams with nothing to lose are the most dangerous ones in the NHL playoffs. The Florida Panthers were the perfect example of this in the first round as they took down the historically good Boston Bruins despite finishing the regular season a record 43 points behind Boston. Now, they’re continuing to shine against the Toronto Maple Leafs. After going down 3-1 against the Bruins, Florida has put together five straight wins and goes home with a chance to sweep the Leafs in the second round. So how are they getting it done? Let’s get into it. 

Getting the Puck

First of all, Florida’s forecheck has been tremendous. They exposed an exceptionally good defensive core in the first series, and now they’re doing even more damage against Toronto. It starts with their best players like Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk buying into this style, but it truly has been a team masterclass in puck retrieval. With the pressure they’re putting on the Maple Leafs, Toronto has had a difficult time getting the puck out of the defensive zone and onto their best players’ sticks. Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner are spending less time with the puck. Of course, this means that they’re spending more time getting tired playing defense, and that’s certainly not their strong suit.  

Shooting the Puck

Another piece of the game that’s helping the Panthers right now is their finishing. Getting the puck in the offensive zone is one thing, but it doesn’t mean much if you can’t take advantage of your opportunities. During their five game win streak, Florida has scored 22 goals, which ends up at an average of more than four per game. In playoff hockey, you’re going to win most games if you’re scoring at a clip like this. Not surprisingly, Matt Tkachuk has been leading the way offensively. In nine games, the American winger has 5 goals and 10 assists to tie for the league lead in playoff points.  

Stopping the Puck

Finally, there’s the goaltending. At the beginning of the playoffs, it was huge question mark for the Florida Panthers. To begin the series in Boston, the team started with a relatively unknown guy in Alex Lyon. Lyon played okay, but a few weak goals in the first three games were his demise, and the team eventually switched back to veteran Sergei Bobrovsky. Although Bobrovsky wasn’t perfect in the first round, he found a way to win three straight games against the Bruins. In round two against Toronto, he’s been terrific so far. With the way Florida plays, they may not need a guy to save everything that comes his way, but they do need a guy to make the big saves at the right time. If Bobrovsky can continue the way he’s started this series, then the Leafs (and the rest of the league) are in trouble.

With so much hockey still to be played, the series is far from over. With an offence as potent at Toronto’s, sometimes it doesn’t take much to get the goalscoring going. However, with how the Panthers are looking now, Game 3 is a must-win for the Leafs. If the Panthers do get through this one, I don’t see how the Carolina Panthers or New Jersey Devils could give them anything more challenging than the Bruins and Maple Leafs. So, are the Florida Panthers favourites to win the East now? I can’t believe we’re even asking that question.

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