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When the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to Carolina on Saturday, head coach Sheldon Keefe said in his post-game comments that he thought the club’s 44-shot performance was one of their best games of the year in spite of allowing Sebastian Aho’s game-winning goal late in regulation after Auston Matthews had tied the game.
That analysis seemed a bit off since the Leafs lost a game that they dominated and should have won.
Such was the case in Toronto’s return to Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday, as the Leafs dominated play for most of the contest, but only managed to beat backup goalie Alex Lyon twice on 40 shots and allowed the Florida Panthers to be within one goal late in the third. The Panthers tied the game on a Sam Reinhart deflection with one minute to go and Brandon Montour scored at 1:41 of overtime to hand the Leafs a 3-2 overtime loss.
Zach Aston-Reese and Matthews scored for Toronto, and Ilya Samsonov made 26 saves in only his fifth loss on home ice, giving the Leafs a six-point lead over Tampa in the race for second place in the Atlantic, but after the game, Keefe took aim at his club’s inability to beat Lyon as they had difficulty tallying on Canes rookie Pyotr Kochetkov on the weekend.
“We didn’t score enough to win. We made some mistakes at the end that cost us the extra point.” Keefe said after the game. “Whether it is power plays or some of the chances we had at five-on-five, we had opportunities to bury them and build a substantial lead. We have seen this a lot. We let teams hang around, and they end up getting points from you.”
While earning a point is an acceptable outcome at times throughout the season, the Leafs scoring drying up at the most inopportune times harkens back to what has happened in the playoffs, especially in deciding games throughout the Kyle Dubas/Keefe era. In 2019, 2021, and 2022 Boston, Montreal, and Tampa held Toronto to one goal in Game 7, and in 2020, Columbus shut the Leafs out in a deciding Game 5.
It may be unfair to compare a pair of semi-inconsequential games in March to playoff games with the season hanging in the balance, but this current Leafs club has not earned any credibility or reason for confidence that they can avoid the same pitfalls against Tampa in the postseason.
Samsonov was solid in his return from paternal leave, having little chance on Anton Lundell’s opening goal after a bad giveaway by defenseman Jake McCabe, the deflection by Reinhart, and the game-winner by Montour on a two-on-one break.
“We (didn’t) help him with the first shot that he faced there,” Keefe said. “After that, we didn’t give up a lot, but I thought they definitely had some looks. He looked sharp.”
Toronto will be off until Saturday when they travel to Ottawa for their final meeting with the provincial rival Senators. That game begins a stretch of three in four nights, with the second of back-to-back games against Detroit at home on Sunday and then taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday.