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Hyde5: Panthers must wait, as Toronto’s ‘Core Four’ get on board to avoid sweep

When Matthew Tkachuk’s shot slid free behind Toronto goalie Joseph Woll midway through the third period and Sam Reinhart shoved it in the net, the question if it would be the start of another Florida Panthers’ comeback that’s defined their playoff path.

Not this game. Not this night. Not against a Toronto team that survived with a 2-1 win Wednesday night to get the series back to Canada for Friday’s Game 5. It’s still the Panthers series, up 3-1. And the fact only four NHL teams have ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit remains relevant.

There’s a crack of hope for Toronto, though. The Panthers, after all, rallied from a 1-3 deficit in the previous series. Whether this was a one-game reprieve or the start of something will be seen in Game 5.

2. The conversation in Toronto before Game 4 was why its star players, the “Core Four,” hadn’t scored. Well, two scored Toronto’s goals Wednesday, though they weren’t exactly goal-scorer’s ideas of beauty. A second-period pass in the corner from Michael Bunting was meant to go down the boards and behind the Panthers net. It deflected off the referee’s knee to the front of the net where William Nylander’s shot hit the crossbar, bounced back against goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and into the net. Puck luck. Toronto’s second goal was a simple shot from the blue line by Mitch Marner that navigated through traffic in front of the Panthers goal past a shielded Bobrovsky. So a second member of the Leafs’ Core Four got on the board. Outliers? Or the start of something for Toronto’s stars?

3. Bobrovsky kept giving the Panthers a chance in his seventh straight start. Just in the second period, he made a power-play save off a shot out front where Bunting had a chance to tee it up; a David Kampf whack at his doorstep; and the best of all, a pad save on a John Tavares breakaway. Since reinserted as starter in Game 5 against Boston, Bobrovsky had six straight wins entering this Game 4. He was a star again for the Panthers, even if they couldn’t take advantage of it.

4. Part of the Panthers’ strength this playoff run has been their energy and winning of details. Toronto looked better in those facets in Game 4. From the start, Toronto was winning the numbers that add up. After two periods, Toronto won 22 faceoffs to the Panthers’ 11 and had 19 hits to the Panthers’ 13. At one point, Toronto had blocked as many shots (16) as the Panthers had taken. In a tight game, all these numbers sketch a large picture.

5. Give credit to Woll, Toronto’s rookie goalie who started in place of the injured Ilya Samsonov. He was helped by a defense blocking all those shots, and the Panthers passed up some simple shots in hopes of getting better ones. But he made 24 saves and wasn’t rattled when the Panthers closed it to 2-1 in the third period.

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