Panthers make Leafs pay for ‘mistakes’ in Game 1

TORONTO — Sergei Bobrovsky made 34 saves, Matthew Tkachuk had three assists and the Florida Panthers survived a squandered two-goal lead to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 on Tuesday night in opening game of their second-round playoff series.

Sam Bennett had a goal and an assist, and Carter Verhaeghe and Nick Cousins also scored for Florida. Aleksander Barkov registered two assists as the Panthers — who overcame a 3-1 series deficit in Round 1 — won their fourth consecutive game.

Matthew Knies posted his first NHL goal, and Michael Bunting also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov stopped 24 shots.

Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday.

The Panthers stunned the record-setting Boston Bruins with three straight victories, including an overtime win in Game 7 on Sunday, and kept up the momentum against another Original Six team.

Tkachuk — who after the morning skate said, “I guess the prize for knocking off the best team in the league is getting the second-best team in the league now” — was right in the middle of the Panthers’ push yet again. He assisted on Brandon Montour’s third-period goal, which concluded the scoring.

“Credit to Florida,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “They played a great game today. But it’s a long series, just like the last one we played.”

The Maple Leafs ended a generation of misery on Saturday when John Tavares scored in overtime of Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning as Toronto advanced in the postseason for the first time since 2004. Two days later, the Maple Leafs found themselves trailing 1-0 in a series for the second time this spring.

“I thought we made some mistakes here tonight that we didn’t necessarily make in our last series,” Keefe said.

Tied at 2 late in the second period with the Maple Leafs pushing, the Panthers silenced the towel-waving crowd at Scotiabank Arena.

Verhaeghe, who scored the dramatic winner in Game 7 against Boston on Sunday, took a pass from Anthony Duclair and gave Florida the lead for good when he beat Samsonov on a breakaway at 17:47 for his fourth goal of the playoffs.

“I thought we were good tonight,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I didn’t think we were great.”

Toronto had a couple of opportunities to tie it in the third but never really threatened Bobrovsky, before Montour blasted a one-timer on a delayed penalty at 12:24.

Bobrovsky then denied William Nylander on a terrific toe stop with just over a minute left in regulation on Toronto’s best chance to close within one.

The Maple Leafs are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since Jeremy Roenick scored in overtime of Game 6 for the Philadelphia Flyers to eliminate Toronto on May 4, 2004 — a stretch of 18 years, 11 months and 28 days.

After Toronto had a number of terrific looks on two power plays, the Panthers struck when Cousins scored his first on a rebound at 9:25 of the opening period.

Helped when a shot clanged off the post earlier in the period, Samsonov made big stops on Anton Lundell and Barkov.

Bobrovsky made a couple of huge saves off Auston Matthews on a Maple Leafs power play in the second before Florida went up 2-0 at 7:58, when Bennett tipped a point shot past Samsonov that initially hit the stick of Knies.

The Toronto rookie made amends 11 seconds later when he scored his first professional goal on a highlight-reel effort between his skates with his back to Florida’s goal after Bobrovsky made the initial save.

Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn then rocked Tkachuk with a big hit in the neutral zone before Bunting — who was suspended three games in the first round and made a healthy scratch for another — scored his first of the postseason at 14:51 following a perfect pass from Calle Jarnkrok.

Duclair sprung Verhaeghe later in the shift and put the Panthers up 3-2.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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