Panthers’ Maurice rips refs after wild loss to Maple Leafs

Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice speaks after a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, expressing his displeasure with the officiating and attributing it to personal issues with a referee. Courtesy: Bally Sports Florida

TORONTO – After he lit a match in his post-game scrum, Paul Maurice walked away from the blaze with a request to the camera and microphone jockeys who had formed a semicircle around the Florida Panthers backdrop.

The veteran coach asked the gathered media to be kind to him, joking that no one much cares what he has to say. That it’s all about the framing anyway.

So, we’ll present the events of the Panthers’ wild 5-4 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs as plainly as possible.

Context is key.

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“Lots of energy, excitement, profanity” is how Maurice began describing a contest that was physical and messy, fraught with problems and overflowing with entertainment.

“I’m proud of our guys here tonight. Like, they flew us out to the West Coast, flew us back, flew us home, flew us up here and back-to-back us, and then they threw those two guys at us. I think we hung in there pretty good. I’m proud of our group.”

In one sentence, Maurice pointed to the NHL’s schedule-makers (“they”) and Tuesday’s referees, Francois St-Laurent and Pierre Lambert (“those two guys”).

They slotted his struggling team on a Detroit-Dallas-Colorado-Vegas road trip which ended on Thursday, only to play Saturday in Sunrise, then back-to-back in Buffalo (Monday) and Toronto (Tuesday).

Those two guys whistled the Panthers for nine minor penalties in the first two periods and awarded William Nylander a penalty shot in the third. (He missed.) They also called six penalties on the Maple Leafs.

Florida went 1-for-3 on the power-play. Toronto went 2-for-7 and gave up a shorthanded goal to Anton Lundell.

“Well, it’ll always be penalties that you take in the game you earn, and there’s a whole bunch of (penalties) you’re not gonna like it all. I thought we had the inordinate share of those,” Maurice said.

He took particular issue with defenceman Radko Gudas’s charging penalty on Zach Aston-Reese, as it led to an Auston Matthews power-play goal with just 1.1 seconds remaining in the second period:

“Radko Gudas hits as clean a hit as you can level — stick on stick, body on body. Not a charge. They’re both going in the same direction. No problem with (Aston-Reese) going to the net at all. That’s hockey,” Maurice said.

“I don’t know what the hell those guys were doing tonight. But it wasn’t Florida Panther–friendly.”

Neither executive suite was thrilled with the standard of calls Tuesday.

In-game, Toronto’s Sheldon Keefe questioned Mitch Marner’s interference infraction. Postgame, he wondered about Aston-Reese being the only one penalized for this Gudas confrontation:

There was also much confusion as to why Timothy Liljegren got dinged for interference on a play in which Pierre Engvall, then Sam Bennett, moved Ilya Samsonov’s loose goalie stick:

“Sometimes things equal themselves out over a game,” Keefe said, when informed of Maurice’s frustration.

Keefe is speaking from the winning podium and has the benefit of a near-guaranteed postseason berth. Maurice is scrambling for points, trying to steer the defending Presidents’ Trophy champions into a wild card spot.

So, what was Maurice’s message to his bench once the whistles started sounding?

“I just explained to ’em, it had nothing to do with my players; it had to do with me and a relationship that I have with one of the referees. That’s what that was all about. So, just go out, keep your mouth shut, and play the game.”

That referee, one must assume, is St-Laurent.

Back in 2016, while coaching the Jets, Maurice berated St-Laurent during a game in which Winnipeg’s Bryan Little was injured on a hit from Anton Stralman.

Blake Wheeler charged after Stralman in response, and Wheeler — not Stralman — was penalized on the play.

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St. Laurent ejected Maurice from the game. Little missed the remainder of the season with a fractured neck.

And Maurice was slapped with a $5,000 fine from the league.

Fox’s Fast 5

Mitchell Marner has points in 19 consecutive home games. That surpasses Darryl Sittler (18 games) and sets a new franchise record.

• Maurice on the convenience of mathematics:

“Our analytics are way better than our record. In Winnipeg, our analytics were way worse than our record, so I can’t use that as an argument here. I was always saying, ‘Ah, analytics don’t matter.’ And now I’m saying, ‘Hey, look at the analytics.’ ”

T.J. Brodie, who was sorely missed in Boston, is back skating, albeit solo, as he recovers from his rib injury.

The defenceman was originally given a two-week recovery timeline, according to Keefe, which places his return on Saturday in Montreal at the earliest. No need to rush.

• The 19-point scoring gap between team leader Matthew Tkachuk (56 points) and runner-up Brandon Montour (37) is the second largest on any club. Boston’s David Pastrnak (62) has a 22-point lead on Brad Marchand (40).

The smallest difference between the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers is in Seattle, where Matty Beniers and Andre Burakovsky are tied with 36 points.

• Dryden Hunt became the first NHLer since Ilya Kovalchuk in 2019-20 (Kings, Canadiens, Capitals) to score for three teams in one season.

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