Yet it was the large and vocal crowd at the Air Canada Centre that received a big salute from Toronto coach Paul Maurice after the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 comeback victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
With Toronto down 2-0 after the first period, Maurice said a “Go Leafs Go” chant got the team going and relaxed the players on the bench.
“I really felt they had an impact on the game,” he said.
Maurice was worried how the crowd would react after a week in which Bryan McCabe has been under siege from fans and media. His gaffe in Monday night’s loss at Buffalo, when he redirected the puck into his own net in overtime, added to the fans’ unhappiness with the highly paid defenseman.
“I thought we were really, really tight in the first period,” Maurice said. “Not complacent, but tense.”
McCabe turned the jeers to cheers with the tying goal and a solid all-around effort.
“He came out and played his best game of the year—defensively,” Maurice said. “I think his confidence grew on the ice.”
An evenly played game was settled with 27.6 seconds to go in the third period when Antropov hammered in a rebound from the left circle after goalie Craig Anderson kicked out a fat rebound on a shot from Pavel Kubina.
“I was just in the right position at the right time,” Antropov said. “We needed it, and fortunately we won.”
The goal capped a bizarre sequence. Maple Leafs defenseman Ian White dropped the gloves in the Florida zone and tried to goad Jozef Stumpel into a fight after Stumpel cross-checked him from behind near the boards.
Stumpel refused to fight while Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester broke down the ice and nearly scored on Vesa Toskala—faking out the goalie but missing the open net from an acute angle after Toskala got a piece of it with his stick.
Toronto skated right back down the ice and netted the winner. It was the fourth consecutive two-point game for Antropov.
“Well the guy mugged our guy,” Panthers coach Jacques Martin said of the White-Stumpel non-fight. “Last time I checked that was a penalty.”
Stumpel also couldn’t believe there wasn’t a call.
“He dropped the gloves and I didn’t,” Stumpel said. “I thought we were going to get a power play. That used—that is—a penalty and suddenly it wasn’t.”
Toskala stopped 26 shots for his second win of the season.
The Leafs faced the opposition’s backup goalie for the fourth game in a row, this time with Anderson getting the nod after the Panthers scratched Tomas Vokoun. The Czech netminder sustained an ankle sprain in a 2-1 shootout win at Montreal on Tuesday night. Anderson stopped 24 shots.
Olesz opened the scoring on a Florida power play, finishing off a tic-tac-toe play from Stephen Weiss and Horton at 5:59.
Booth made it 2-0 at 10:20, flipping a pass from Jay Bouwmeester over Toskala’s right shoulder after McCabe failed to clear the puck.
As much as the first period belonged to Florida, Toronto owned the second.
Blake got the crowd into it with a quick goal just 24 seconds into the second period to cut the lead to 2-1, rifling a shot from the side boards into a half-empty net after Anderson kicked out a rebound.
McCabe then tied it 2-2 with a one-timed shot on a 5-on-3 power play at 6:49, pumping his fist after beating Anderson glove side.
Both teams were 1-for-5 on the power play.
: Leafs LW Alexei Ponikarovsky returned after missing three games with an ankle injury sustained at practice last week. Forward Boyd Devereaux (back) did not play. … Panthers captain Olli Jokinen set a franchise record with his 301st consecutive game, passing Robert Svehla. Jokinen hasn’t sat out since the flu sidelined him in December 2002. Jokinen is one goal and one point short of passing Scott Mellanby for most (157 goals, 355 points) in franchise history.