Game: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Florida Panthers
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Odds: Maple Leafs +120, Panthers -140
When Toronto travels to Florida to take on the Panthers tonight, their motivation to win will be a bit different than their opponent. The Leafs (47-21-11, 105 points) are assured of finishing second in the Atlantic Division and have secured a spot in the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be their opponent in the opening round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Florida (42-31-7, 91 points) leads the Pittsburgh Penguins (90 points) and the New York Islanders (91 points) by a slim margin in the standings and they own the tiebreaker over the Islanders. Only two of those three teams will advance. The Panthers will automatically qualify for the playoffs if they defeat the Maple Leafs tonight and the visiting Carolina Hurricanes in their regular-season finale on Thursday.
With a career-high 108 points to lead the Panthers, Matthew Tkachuk is unquestionably playing his best hockey. He just played in Saturday’s 4-2 victory over the host Washington Capitals and had one goal and two assists. Tkachuk’s goal with just 60 seconds remaining broke the tie in that game. Tkachuk leads the Panthers with 68 assists and is second with 40 goals.
With a career-high 41 goals, Carter Verhaeghe leads the Panthers in that category. Florida has benefited greatly from backup goalie Alex Lyon, who has replaced starter Sergei Bobrovsky (non-COVID illness). The 30-year-old minor leaguer and career backup has won six straight games. Florida’s four-game losing streak was snapped in his first game of the current streak, and the team hasn’t looked back.
In the Leafs’ 7-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, Toronto rested two of their top defensemen, TJ Brodie and Morgan Rielly. With two goals and an assist, Mitchell Marner was Toronto’s standout player in that victory. He now leads the team and has a career-high 98 points, one more than he did last year. Marner said he would love to score 100 points and he leads Toronto with 68 assists.
Auston Matthews (39 goals), William Nylander (38 goals), John Tavares (35) and Marner are the Leafs’ other three players with at least 30 goals (30). Toronto has alternated wins and losses over their last ten games, and as the playoffs draw near, there is no momentum. The fact that backup goalie Matt Murray (14-8-2, 3.01 goals-against average) is still healing from a head injury is Toronto’s other worry.
Ilya Samsonov is the starting goalie for Toronto (26-10-5, 2.36 GAA, four shutouts). In this season’s matchups with the Panthers, he is 1-0-1 with a 1.77 GAA. Florida won the last game between the two teams, but Toronto won the last time the teams met in Florida.
As mentioned, Florida has won six straight and they have done it by scoring a flurry of goals. They have scored 28 goals in the six wins. The Panthers O/U record for the season is a very profitable 42-30-8. The Over has hit in six of the last eight Panthers home games and in 10 of the last 14 against Toronto.
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