The Maple Leafs entered Wednesday with their backs firmly pressed against the wall.
Sheldon Keefe’s team responded with what he called as their best effort of the season — one peppered with desperation and urgency — to keep its flicking hopes alive.
It was only one night, but Toronto isn’t done yet.
Mitch Marner had a goal and an assist, rookie Joseph Woll made 24 saves in his first playoff start, and the visiting Leafs downed the Florida Panthers 2-1 in a must-win Game 4 to cut their deficit to 3-1 in the teams’ second-round series.
“There was no real letup,” said Keefe, Toronto’s head coach. “Unbelievable job by our guys.”
William Nylander, who along with Marner snapped a seven-game goal drought, also scored for the Leafs.
Toronto had two days to stew after a sub-par effort from top-to-bottom in Game 3 — including the club’s so-called “Core Four” of Marner, Nylander, Auston Matthews and John Tavares, who had combined for zero goals in the series entering Wednesday — that pushed the Original Six franchise to the brink.
“They care deeply … and because of that you give that type of effort,” Keefe said of Game 4. “They didn’t want to go quietly. That’s what we’ve been talking about — we’re gonna leave it all out there.
“From the coach’s side of it, now you look and say, ‘That’s the standard.”‘
Sam Reinhart replied for the Panthers. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 23 shots.
Florida saw its franchise-record playoff winning streak end at six contests, but has three more cracks at knocking off Toronto on the heels of accomplishing the same feat against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in seven games after trailing that series 3-1.
“We lost a game,” said head coach Paul Maurice, who was in a jovial mood with reporters at his press conference.
“That happens in the playoffs.”
Woll became the first rookie goaltender to win his first post-season start for the Leafs since Felix Potvin in 1993.
“Any opportunity I get with this team is pretty special,” he said. “We were challenged to leave it all out there.”
Looking to become just the fifth club in NHL history to climb out of a 3-0 hole, Toronto gets at least a 48-hour reprieve and will host Game 5 of the best-of-seven matchup Friday at Scotiabank Arena. Game 6, if necessary, would be Sunday back in South Florida.