1. Matthews opens scoring to set new rookie goal record, tie record for first goals. The Leafs were all over the Panthers to start Tuesday's game, outshooting Florida 13-3 in the first 20 minutes and entering the first intermission with a 2-0 lead. The first of those goals came from centre Auston Matthews, whose 35th goal of the season at the 11:54 mark broke team icon Wendel Clark's 31-year-old franchise record for goals from a rookie. It was also the 14th time this year Matthews has scored the first goal of the game for Toronto, tying Dave Andreychuk's record from the 1993-94 campaign.
Clark spoke to reporters in the first intermission regarding Matthews' record-breaking marker, and it was clear he is impressed by the 19-year-old's penchant for putting the puck in the net. But Matthews was more happy he put his team ahead in another crucial game and gave the Leafs momentum they'd ride for the entire first period and much of the second.
Video: FLA@TOR: Komarov strikes on two-on-one rush
2. Komarov increases Toronto's lead after beautiful setup from Brown. Toronto boosted its advantage 2:49 after Matthews scored when winger Connor Brown made the most of a 2-on-1 Leafs rush and set up linemate Leo Komarov for a one-timer shot that blew by Panthers goalie James Reimer to give the home team a 2-0 lead.
The goal was Komarov's 13th of the year and his third goal in his past eight games, and the veteran added an assist on Toronto's third period goal to give him seven points in that span. He's an expert penalty killer and a robust physical force, but Komarov - who hit the 30-point plateau with his performance Tuesday - still has skills with the puck, too.
Video: FLA@TOR: McElhinney reaches back to rob Smith
3. Panthers get on scoreboard midway through second, but McElhinney stands strong for Leafs. After centre Brian Boyle collided with him near the side of the Panthers' net, Reimer lay on the ice for a few minutes before leaving the game and being replaced by Reto Berra at 11:07 of the middle frame. That gave Florida some fire, and they got on the scoresheet at 15:31 of the second to cut Toronto's lead in half entering the final regulation frame.
That said, Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney was stellar for the home side, stopping all but one of the 15 Panthers shots he saw through the first 40 minutes. McElhinney was playing in place of injured starter Frederik Andersen, and he did exactly what head coach Mike Babcock asked of him: namely, put his team in a position to win.
Video: FLA@TOR: Hyman converts on shorthanded break
4. Hyman nets shorthanded goal to give Leafs breathing room, vault near top of the league in shorthanded markers. The Leafs started the third period in penalty trouble, but winger Zach Hyman took advantage of a terrific feed from Komarov and scored a shorthanded goal at the 3:32 mark for his 10th of the season and a 3-1 Toronto lead.
The goal was Hyman's fourth shorthanded marker of the season, moving him into a tie with Ottawa's Zack Smith for second place in the NHL in that department. Only Nashville's Viktor Arvidson has more, with five - but Hyman's goal gave his side some much-needed breathing room for the rest of the evening. And it turned out to be breathing room the Leafs needed.
5. Florida scores in final minute of regulation to make it close, but Leafs tighten up in final seconds to earn a vital victory. The Panthers cut Toronto's lead to a single goal after winger Jaromir Jagr scored on the power play with 56 seconds left in regulation time, but, despite Florida having an extra attacker after pulling Berra for that span, the Leafs proved resilient in locking up their 36th win of the season and keep pace in the extremely tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
The victory kept Toronto in third place in the Atlantic Division, one point ahead of the Boston Bruins, who also won Tuesday. The Leafs have seven games left in the regular season, and their playoff spot likely won't be determined until the final showdowns of the year in early April. But team management has to be pleased the Buds bounced back from a tough loss in Buffalo Saturday and beat a Florida team that spanked them 7-2 in their previous meeting. So long as the Leafs put forth a similarly tight defensive effort in the games ahead, their offence should be able to provide sufficient support and earn them additional standings points at the most important time of year.