Toronto Maple Leafs draw motivation from Canada’s decisive World Cup performance

TORONTO — The Eastern Conference-leading Florida Panthers were enough of a motivator for Mitch Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

TORONTO — The Eastern Conference-leading Florida Panthers were enough of a motivator for Mitch Marner and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

But the fact that the Canadian men‘s soccer team clinched its first World Cup berth since 1986 with a 4-0 win over Jamaica on the road at BMO Field an hour before puck drop provided a nice backdrop. athletic background to the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 determination. victory on Sunday.

There was a buzz among the 18,939 at Scotiabank Arena before the game, and the Maple Leafs admitted the soccer game was being played in the locker room.

“Yeah, that was in the background. I stopped watching when it happened to 3-cobb. Sorry, that’s soccer, 3-zero,” said Marner, who with three assists became fastest in Maple Leafs history to reach 300 career assists in his 411th game.

When asked if Canada‘s result on the field had lifted the spirits of the Maple Leafs, Marner replied, “No, we have too many Americans.

It was obvious, however, that the Canadiens had a positive effect on the Maple Leafs. Head Coach Sheldon Keefe opened his session with reporters by congratulating Canadian coach John Herdman.

Toronto captain John Tavares, who scored two power-play goals in the second period on Marner’s build-up, was also thrilled for Canada to be at its first World Cup in 36 years.

“I saw driving in the packed house (BMO Field),” Tavares said. “It was just a great moment for Canadian soccer and these players. I’m really excited.

“Guys were talking about it a bit before the game.”

There were several positive developments for the home team besides Marner’s play in the hockey game. First, the Maple Leafs didn’t leave much room for the quick, transition-oriented Panthers.

It’s also clear that veteran defenseman Mark Giordano has been a calming influence on the Toronto guard since being acquired before the NHL trade deadline last Monday.

Goaltender Petr Mrazek also rebounded with his second straight win since being waived last Sunday. He stopped 30 of 32 shots.

“We didn’t give away too many chances offensively with odd runs or anything like that,” Marner said. “We played well with our gap control, the forwards made quick reads and our defense also had big gaps with being tight, so overall the five guys on the ice always played in sync there, and that’s what we talked about and what we needed to do, so just a good job of execution.

Trailing 2-1, Marner set up Tavares for power-play goals 6:02 apart in the second period for career assists of 300 and 301. He then fired a pass into the slot to hit Ilya Mikheyev in stride for a third pass.

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen,” Tavares said of Marner’s passing ability. “His awareness is exceptional. The way he sees a piece developing is two, three steps ahead.”

Auston Matthews fired a long shot into the empty net with less than a second left for his 48th of the season.

Toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly had a goal and two assists as the Maple Leafs (41-19-5) won for the second time in three starts since the NHL trade deadline last Monday.

The Panthers (44-15-6) lost for the first time in three starts with Claude Giroux in the lineup after acquiring the former captain from the Philadelphia Flyers last weekend.

“Games against them (the Leafs) will be high-intensity, playoff-type games,” Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said. “It will be like that in the final stretch against all the teams. They are an exciting team to play and we will be ready to play next time.”

The Maple Leafs needed just 11 seconds to give the 19,939 spectators at Scotiabank Arena something more to cheer about. Rielly redirected a pass from TJ Brodie for a 1-0 advantage.

The Panthers tied the game when Sam Bennett found defenseman Montour in the slot. He fired a high shot past Toronto goaltender Mrazek midway through the first period.

Florida took the lead early in the second period. William Nylander of Toronto had the puck pushed off his stick by Panthers forward Eetu Luostarinen, and it went to Ryan Lomberg of Richmond Hill, Ont., for the game-clinching goal.

Then Tavares and Marner got to work putting the Maple Leafs ahead for good.

“We got a bit off our game,” Lomberg said. “Although they won, there are definitely things we can change. Some adjustments to make.

“We’re not worried. We’ll get back to work.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 27, 2022.

Tim Wharnsby, The Canadian Press

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