Maurice blows up at Panthers during ‘must win’ comeback over Maple Leafs

Alex Lyon stepped up and made 38 saves, Brandon Montour scored the overtime winner, and the Florida Panthers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2.

TORONTO — “Oh, you don’t want to know,” Aleksander Barkov warns, when asked what head coach Paul Maurice really said to his players in an epic bench tirade that requires earmuffs and a hair-trigger bleep button.

The Florida Panthers — losers of four straight in regulation and clawing for their wild-card lives in the Eastern Conference’s turtle derby — arrived in Toronto Wednesday at great risk of becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to hoist the Presidents’ Trophy one season and whiff on the playoffs the next.

It would be a humiliating club in which to earn membership.

So, when the Panthers squandered a fast 1-0 lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs by surrendering what originally seemed like two preventable goals on consecutive second-period shifts, their coach blew a casket of Yosemite Sam proportions.

[brightcove videoID=6323614012112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Calmed by his group’s dramatic 3-2 overtime comeback victory over the less-urgent Maple Leafs and relieved by two coveted points in the bank, Maurice could find the humour in his own temper tantrum.

“I thought it was a very nice opportunity to share feelings,” explained Maurice, who was given extra time to rant while he correctly challenged a Calle Järnkrok non-goal as being offside.

“That was not calculated. It was just honest. It was where I was at. If I could have yelled louder, if I found a (expletive) way to be more profane than I was, I would have. I’m not gifted enough.

“I needed to channel my father, who’s a gifted curser. That was all I had. I was honest. That’s how I felt.”

So, what was the essence of his message, beyond the expletive?

“There was nothing beyond the expletive.”

What was he seeing from his players to incite a nuclear explosion?

“Oh, what you saw. Unless you’re a Leaf fan, which everything was great on the other side. It was more of a cleanse for the coach. I needed to. It was cathartic.”

[brightcove videoID=6323617853112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

What a contrast.

The Maple Leafs are home and cooled. They can shrug off a blown lead and sleep in late Thursday in the comfort of having secured second seed in the Atlantic Division.

Although the Panthers are now calling “must win” (team MVP Matthew Tkachuk’s phrase) after every morning skate and waking up nervous, fingers crossed that the Pittsburgh Penguins are finding it as difficult to get saves as they are.

Maurice’s prized young netminder, Spencer Knight, is enrolled in the NHL and NHLPA’s player assistance program. And his $10-million goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, is feeling under the weather.

And so, with Florida’s season on the brink, the coach had no choice but to turn to Alex Lyon, an undrafted 30-year-old journeyman called up from the AHL, to stop the likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

“It’s my job to stay ready, quite literally, as a third goalie,” a jacked-up Lyon said, after a 38-save win so thrilling he figures he’ll need to fight the urge to get too high off it.

“I don’t get too worked up anymore. Not to sound like I’ve been through it all, but just spent a lot of time in the American League and played a lot of games.

“You just try to find ways to kind of block out the other things, and really all that matters is stopping the puck, and so just try to focus on that. And, honestly, you got to give a huge amount of credit to the guys.”

Despite getting caved in during the first half of the game, the Cats killed off four Leafs power plays, and Lyon stoned Zach Aston-Reese on a penalty shot.

He bought the Panthers enough time to tie the game in a desperate, pulled-goalie, 6-on-4 final-minute power-play frenzy. Then he stood tall in the face of two Grade-A Matthews’ chances in the fourth period before Brandon Montour sniped the game-winner the other way.

Lyon studied Matthews’ breakaway moves with Bobrovsky before puck drop.

“He scored on Bob like that in Florida last week,” Lyon said. “So we talked about that a lot. And how he’s so good at moving to the net-front quickly and then coming high and going low glove. That’s one of his signature moves. So, I tried to anticipate it, and it worked out, but obviously such a dangerous player like that, you just try to do the best you can.”

And when you’re not trying the best you can, Maurice is there to gently remind you.

“Against that team and the situation we’re in, we can’t really make any cute plays or play like we’re outdoors,” Barkov said. “He got us going, and we started playing a lot better.”

“He’s been in the league for a long time for a reason. And he knows really well how to get the things going if needed.”

Oh, it’s needed.

For confidence in a wild-card race that will go down to the wire.

For a shot to avoid the embarrassment of missing both the playoffs and a seat at the first round of the draft.

For the head coach’s sanity.

“That can be a players’ win,” Maurice said. “Because the coach had lost orbit about halfway through the second.

“So, the players, that’s theirs. They get to keep it.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• There is no doubt in my mind that Ryan O’Reilly (broken finger) would already be playing games if they mattered.

The centreman was on the ice for well over an hour before morning skate, running drills with the other injured Leafs. He remained out Wednesday to skate with the main group and was beating Matt Murray clean off the rush.

The man looks ready. The team is simply giving his digit more time to heal.

“I don’t know if Ryan O’Reilly is still on the ice right now,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said, long after the optional skate wrapped. “I feel like he’s been in his gear for almost three hours here this morning.”

• Luke Schenn was traded back to the Maple Leafs more than a month ago. He has worn road white, St. Pat’s green and now Bieber black.

“What’s a guy gotta do to wear a blue jersey around here?” he said, smiling.

• Rare sight Tuesday. Matthews’ parents, Ema and Brian, were out in Etobicoke taking in the entire Leafs practice from the Ford Performance Centre stands.

Matthews explains Mom and Dad were in the neighbourhood running errands and decided, why not.

It’s not unusual to spot the Arizona-based Brian taking in Leafs games on the road or at home on occasion, but Matthews hadn’t visited with his mom in a while because of her busy work schedule.

The superstar is always quick to recognize the support of his tight family. “It’s nice,” he said, smiling.

• Zach Aston-Reese looked downright inspired, scoring on a beautiful tip, drawing a penalty shot, ripping a game-high five shots and finishing his checks with gusto. The ex-Penguin was playing like he was trying to do his old pals in Pittsburgh a favour in the wild-card race.

• Our first sighting of Nick Robertson in a Leafs sweater since he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery to repair an injury suffered on Dec. 8 and returned home to California for the early stages of rehab.

“A long way to go. But when you put in all the work, you still want to feel like a hockey player,” Keefe said. “Get your gear on. Be around players in the room and stuff. So, it’s an important step for him.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.