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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Panthers - 10/27/16

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers Thursday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Panthers get on scoreboard first, but Bozak's late goal ties it before intermission. Florida came into the game looking to rebound from a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday, and Panthers centre Jonathan Marchessault gave them a 1-0 lead on the Leafs at the 6:55 mark of the first period. However, Toronto battened down the hatches on the defensive side for the rest of the frame, and with 1:04 left before the first intermission, centre Tyler Bozak deflected a shot from blueliner Nikita Zaitsev past goalie Roberto Luongo to even the score at one goal apiece.

Bozak's goal was his second of the season, but it was the tenacious forechecking of winger Mitch Marner who kept the play alive in Florida's zone and ensured Zaitsev got a shot toward the net. Marner earned the second assist on the scoring play, but his determination in pursuit of the puck will endear him more to head coach Mike Babcock than any single helper. 

 

Video: FLA@TOR: Bozak finishes Marner's feed for second goal

2. Marchessault's second of the night puts Florida back in front, but Marner helps tie it, gain Toronto's first lead. Toronto's special teams have been effective in recent games, but after forward William Nylander was called for a tripping penalty early in the second period, Marchessault put the Panthers back in the lead with his second goal of the game at 3:35 of the frame. 

That said, when the Leafs were assessed a bench minor for too many men at 7:26, Florida pressed hard and Buds goalie Frederik Andersen came up with a couple of major stops to keep the deficit at one. That proved huge, as Toronto broke up the ice on a rush, Marner made a terrific pass to winger James van Riemsdyk right in front of Luongo, and van Riemsdyk scored his fourth of the year to make it 2-2 at the 10:26 mark. Then, approximately six minutes later, Marner made a brilliant, blind pass that Bozak buried for his second of the game to give the Buds a 3-2 lead they would take into the third.

Marner is still learning all the things it takes to play at the NHL level, but his vision and puck instincts are already well above-average.

3. Leafs' penalty killers continue their solid work. Toronto's special teams have been operating at high levels of late, and although Marchessault's second of the game was a power play goal, the Leafs' penalty killers prevented Florida from scoring on their other two man advantages - including a Marner hooking minor at the two-minute mark of the third - and kept the Buds from surrendering the lead. 

They weren't perfect Thursday, but no penalty kill ever is - and their willingness to dig down and defend on the PK is clearly helping Toronto's cause. 

 

Video: FLA@TOR: Andersen turns away McKegg on a breakaway

4. Andersen comes up big in victory. Andersen hasn't enjoyed the start to his Leafs career he'd hoped for, but give him credit for fighting through and improving his form. He made several outstanding stops Thursday and turned aside 29 of 31 Panthers shots on the night to record his second win as a Leaf. He also pushed his way through a cut to his forehead, a result of an errant stick from (and a double-minor penalty to) Florida centre Colton Sceviour at the 12:40 mark of the third.

Confidence is a key for all NHLers, and Andersen's is improving with every shift and game. And judging by the ovation he received from the ACC crowd after getting cleaned up from Sceviour's stick penalty, Toronto's fans are squarely behind him.

5. Buds' resilience proves valuable as Panthers make late-game push. Maintaining a lead hasn't been easy for the Leafs this season, but Toronto held back the veteran Panthers, who turned on the pressure as the third period unfolded. Andersen was up to the challenge of keeping his teammates out in front, and though there were some anxious moments, the Buds maintained their composure to earn their second win of the year. 

Beating the defending division champions was nice, but proving to themselves they can play the right way with the lead was just as important.

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