As the Leafs were officially eliminated from playoff contention after their loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, their match up against the Florida Panthers on Thursday evening was a meaningless game for both teams. Leaf fans may remember that their team also played in meaningless games last season, but that was because the Leafs had already clinched a spot in the post-season.
With an injured Bernier out of the lineup and a not-so-stellar performance from James Reimer in Tampa Bay, Drew MacIntyre got his first NHL start with the Leafs. Although both teams seemed to be keeping pace as the game got underway, the Leafs proved they were still up to their old tricks when they surrendered the first goal just six minutes into the period. Florida had a number of other scoring chances, but MacIntyre stood tall in his net and kept his team in the game.
As the second period began, the fact that this game was meaningless for both teams seemed to be even more evident as there was a lack of urgency and energy on both sides. But the Leafs seemed to find their legs after the first few minutes and Tyler Bozak tied the game at 1-1. The Leafs and Panthers traded scoring chances as the period went on and both teams got into penalty trouble, but it looked as though the game would be tied heading into the third. With just three seconds left, Brad Boyes got his team the go-ahead goal and Tampa began the third 2-1.
Although the final period left plenty of time for the Leafs to get back into the game, it was soon clear that any bit of motivation or energy the Leafs had left had all but evaporated when Nick Bjugstad made it 3-1 just three minutes into the third. Less than three minutes later, Bjugstad scored his second goal of the game short-handed to give the Panthers a commanding 4-1 lead.
As the final frame wound down, Paul Ranger scored his sixth goal of the season to get the Leafs within two, but the Panthers would go on to win the game 4-2. The Panthers also win the season series against the Leafs.
A clearly disappointed Randy Carlyle spoke to the media after the game about his team’s poor performance in the first period. “It’s a very challenging time right now for our group mentally, obviously the way we played specifically in the first period was somewhat surprising. I thought we’d have a little more compassion for the goaltender that was going in the net for his first NHL start.”
The Leafs will play their last game of the season in the nation’s capital against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday evening.
Guest writer Pamela Yap is a Sheridan College post-grad in Journalism New Media and wrote for CBC during the 2012 London Olympics.