TORONTO – Despite an aggressive third-period rally, the Florida Panthers’ comeback attempt fell short in a 6-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Monday.

Trailing 5-1 after two periods, the Panthers scored three straight goals in the third period to make it a one-goal game before Auston Matthews cashed in on the empty net to end it.

Over the final 20 minutes, Florida led 18-3 in scoring chances.

“More urgency,” Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour said of the push. “Just found some ways to bring some energy. It’s tough when you go down like that, but guys fought to the end.”

In a fight for first place in the Atlantic Division, the Panthers (47-23-5) trail the Boston Bruins (43-17-15) by two points for the top spot with seven games left. A late entry to the race, the Maple Leafs (43-22-9) reside six games out of first with a game in hand.

With a rematch on the horizon, Florida and Toronto will battle again in Game 82.

“If you’re going to prep your playoff pre-scout, I don’t think there’s a lot in that game you could use,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said of his team’s uncharacteristic performance. “I would hope they would, but I don’t think they will.”

Following a turnover by the Panthers at the blue line in the offensive zone, the Maple Leafs opened the scoring when Nick Robertson flew down the center of the ice, made a quick move and beat Sergei Bobrovsky on a breakaway to make it 1-0 at 13:59 of the first period.

Just 33 seconds later, Matthews set up on the doorstep and buried a backdoor tap-in to double Toronto’s lead to 2-0 with his league-leading 61st goal of the campaign at 14:32.

Trying to push back on the power play, the Panthers barely missed a chance to cut their deficit in half when Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov dove to cover a puck that was just about to trickle over the goal line after Sam Bennett let loose a shot from the slot.

Getting on the board just 47 seconds into the second period, Montour blasted a slap shot from just below the blue line past a frozen Samsonov to make it 2-1. But less than a minute later, Tyler Bertuzzi deposited a goal from in front to put Toronto up 3-1 at 1:26.

Montour's goal makes it 2-1 in the second period.

Continuing to smother the Panthers with relentless pressure, the Maple Leafs padded their lead further when David Kampf followed up on his own rebound and backhanded a shot over Bobrovsky from just on top of the crease to make it 4-1 at 8:32.

Flying past a defender, Matthew Knies crashed the crease and made it 5-1 at 14:05.

“They pushed the pace and got to our net,” Montour said. “Obviously we didn’t help out Bobby (Bobrovsky) when he was in there. Again, we battled back, kept it close, but it’s tough to go down like that.”

Relieving Bobrovsky in net, backup Anthony Stolarz started the third period for Florida.

The Panthers also switched up their defensive pairs, moving Oliver Ekman-Larsson up to play with Montour and shifting Niko Mikkola down to play with Dmitry Kulikov.

After just two shifts in the third, the Panthers also lost Carter Verhaeghe to an injury.

“We’ll say day-to-day,” Maurice said of the sniper’s status.

Netting his fifth goal since joining the Panthers at the trade deadline, Vladimir Tarasenko cut the deficit down to 5-2 when he redirected a shot from Mikkola into the cage at 2:12.

Tarasenko's tip-in makes it 5-2 in the third period.

Not done there, Tarasenko showed off his playmaking ability when he set up Sam Reinhart from a quick one-timer from the bottom of the right circle to trim the deficit to 5-3 at 11:56.

“It’s nice to score goals and make passes, but when the team loses you’re not experiencing happiness,” said Tarasenko, who racked up a goal and two assists in the third period. “The main thing is to start earlier, start the game right away and push for 60 minutes.”

After pulling Stolarz for the extra attacker, the Panthers got within a goal when Bennett beat Samsonov with a wicked snapper from the top of the left circle to make it 5-4 at 18:10.

Bennett's goal brings the Panthers within one.

But with 45.9 seconds left, Matthews locked in the win Toronto with an empty-net goal.

“They got a 5-1 lead and it’s tough to keep momentum on that,” Maurice said. “We threw a few pucks at the net and got a little action going. I don’t think we got a whole lot better in the third. We got a bit better. That’s about it.”


“It’s good that we get to play right away, wash that game. They can celebrate that one. We’ll take what we can fix and carry it into tomorrow.” – Brandon Montour

“We just didn’t bring our best in the beginning. We have to work on starting right away. … It was a good push in the third, but obviously not enough.” – Vladimir Tarasenko


- Aleksander Barkov went 17-for-25 (68%) in the faceoff circle.

- Niko Mikkola and Ryan Lomberg each had six hits.

- The Panthers went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, but 0-for-3 on the power play.

- Florida led 44-34 in shot attempts at 5-on-5.

- Anthony Stolarz stopped all six shots he faced in relief.


No rest for these Cats.

Closing out their back-to-back, the Panthers will now hop a flight to Montreal to face off against the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.

The official watch party will be at Tin Roof in Fort Lauderdale.

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