There was an unintentional assist from one of the referees. There was a nearly flawless performance from a rookie goalie making his first playoff start. And there was no sense of panic.
Toronto is going home — for another game, not to start the offseason.
Joseph Woll stopped 24 shots in his first playoff start, Mitch Marner and William Nylander had the goals and the Maple Leafs staved off elimination by beating the Florida Panthers 2-1 in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Wednesday night.
“It was a pretty awesome game to get put into,” Woll said.
Another pretty awesome chance awaits Friday, when Game 5 will be on Toronto’s ice.
Sam Reinhart scored for Florida, which got 23 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers still lead the series 3-1, though their franchise-playoff-record six-game winning streak is now over.
“We lost a game today. That happens in the playoffs,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “We’re good. We’re OK. We get to play the next one. I think we’re all good with that. It wasn’t so fabulous a win that they’re not going to let us play the next one.”
Nylander was the beneficiary of an odd bounce for a power-play score in the second period, Marner scored midway through the third and Woll did the rest as he took the place of injured starter Ilya Samsonov.
Woll, who turns 25 on July 12, was bidding to become the youngest Toronto goalie to have a playoff shutout since Felix Potvin — then 23 — stopped 42 shots to beat Chicago 3-0 on May 9, 1995.
He was 7:47 away from pulling it off.
Reinhart — who had the OT winner in Game 3 — took a quick pass from Matthew Tkachuk and found a way to just get the puck through Woll’s leg pads for a power-play score, cutting Toronto’s lead to 2-1. The Leafs called their time-out immediately after the goal, just to calm everyone down.
“I thought we were playing a really good period to that point,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “It really was to give our guys a breath. … I didn’t have to say much.”
Woll didn’t have to do the job alone, either. Toronto blocked 21 shots as a team.
“We’re just going to keep fighting,” Leafs forward John Tavares said.
Nylander’s surname is pronounced KNEE-lander, which seemed fitting on the opening goal.
Toronto went more than five full periods — 107 minutes and 46 seconds, to be exact, going back to late in the second period of Game 2 — without a power play until Florida’s Eetu Luostarinen got called for high-sticking the Leafs’ Michael Bunting early in the second period.
And they cashed in, thanks to the hockey gods who oversee crazy bounces.
Bunting tried dumping the puck around the net from the right-wing boards, only to have it bounce off the knee of referee Jon McIsaac as he tried to get out of the way. It skipped to the front of the net, where Nylander knocked it past Bobrovsky for a 1-0 Toronto lead.
“A bit unlucky bounce, but it is what it is,” Bobrovsky said. “Again, I thought we had a good game. We compete. We fight. We played a solid defensive game. They are a good team as well, so that’s the score tonight.”
It was the first goal of the series for Toronto’s big four players of Nylander, Auston Matthews, Tavares and Marner.
“It’s not going to get easier,” Nylander said.
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The score stayed 1-0 going into the third, though Toronto had a big chance to go up two in the final seconds of the second period. Tavares got loose down the center of the ice on a breakaway, but Bobrovsky knocked away his attempt to the stick side to keep Florida within one.
Marner made it 2-0 with 9:57 left, and the Leafs held on. They haven’t been swept in a playoff series since 1980 — a best-of-five against the Minnesota North Stars — and not in a best-of-seven since Montreal ousted them in four games in 1979.
“We were right there to the end,” Florida forward Sam Bennett said. “And that’s playoff hockey.”