TORONTO (AP) — Blood was still dripping from just above the left eye of Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen moments after the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
Andersen stopped 29 of 31 shots, bouncing back from the worst start of his NHL career two nights earlier, a seven-goal shelling at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The 27-year-old looked calm and composed in the crease versus Florida, coming up big in perhaps the Leafs’ worst defensive showing of the young season.
“He was our best player by far,” coach Mike Babcock said on a night that saw rookie Mitch Marner finish with three impressive assists.
Andersen said he was just trying to be patient and let the play come to him. Over-aggression was evident in earlier outings, particularly the shellacking against Tampa on Tuesday.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge as a goalie is just to try to relax and be calm,” the native of Denmark explained. “You want to be good and help your team win, but you can’t decide when you get to make a save so you’ve just got to be patient.”
Andersen, who gave up four goals or more in four of his first five starts, tried to have a little bit more fun around the rink, too, going out of his way to share an extra laugh or two with teammates ahead of the game.
Andersen often looked like he was being weighed down by the pressures of Toronto, a vastly more intense market from Anaheim, not to mention the rich five-year contract he signed after a trade from the Ducks and his new position as an undisputed No. 1 starter.
“Everybody is a proud person and wants to do really well and sometimes when it doesn’t go well you put undue pressure on yourself instead of just enjoying it,” Babcock said. “I keep telling the guys, in this market, maybe more so than any market, you have to have something away from hockey that you love to do so you don’t focus on hockey. If you focus on hockey all the time it just wears you out and you come to the rink with no energy.”
Led by its vaunted top line of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Marchessault and Jaromir Jagr, Florida buzzed often throughout the night, capitalizing on turnovers and sloppy defensive zone play. Babcock thought his team gave up more scoring chances than it had in any of the previous six games.
Andersen, however, came up with one big save after another.
Though he surrendered the game’s opening goal to Marchessault, on which he had no chance, Andersen then turned aside Greg McKegg on a breakaway as well as Colton Sceviour later in the period, the Florida winger outmaneuvering Jake Gardiner for a quality chance in the slot.
Andersen did allow a weak second goal to Marchessault, the shot beating him high on a second period Florida power play, but he quickly recovered with a series of stops on another Panthers man advantage, going right to left to get one particularly suave stop on Sceviour.
The Leafs tied the game 2-2 about a minute after that save on a goal from James van Riemsdyk and then went ahead for good six minutes later on the second of two on the evening from Tyler Bozak.
All three Toronto goals were set up by Marner, the 19-year-old who enjoyed his first ever multi-point game in the NHL. Marner’s passes were of the wow variety, particularly a no-look pass to Bozak on that third Leaf goal.
“If you’re Bozak or van Riemsdyk, you know you’re getting two or three real good looks a game out of the kid,” Babcock said before the game.
Babcock has raved about Marner’s skill and competitiveness often thus far, though he was less pleased with his performance in Tuesday’s loss to Tampa Bay than the five that came before that.
“They all expect my 100 percent every game and even I do myself,” Marner said. “I just wanted to make sure I came into this game ready to play and knew when I had the chances just make sure they go into the net.”
Andersen came up bloody with less than eight minutes remaining, the blade of Sceviour’s stick finding a hole in the goaltender’s mask and cutting him just above the left eye.
The cut was a small price to pay for a much-needed win.
“Any time you can walk out of the rink with a win it’s a good day,” Andersen said. “Good way to bounce back from last game.”
Roberto Luongo made 25 saves for the Panthers.
NOTES: Jagr, who set up Florida’s first goal, moved into sole possession of seventh on the all-times game played list (1,636), passing Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens. The 44-year-old is three games from tying Dave Anderchuk for sixth place. … Seth Griffith made his Maple Leafs debut, totaling just under nine minutes of ice time.
Panthers: At Buffalo on Saturday in the third game of a four-game trip.
Maple Leafs: At Montreal on Saturday in the front end of a back-to-back.
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