TORONTO – When Kasperi Kapanen tossed his broken stick away in frustration, he had no idea how much damage it would do.
The Maple Leafs winger was killing a penalty midway through the third period against Montreal on Saturday when a blocked shot snapped his stick in half, and reflexively discarding the pieces back towards Jeff Petry earned the Habs’ defenceman a penalty shot that he scored on to tie the game 4-4.
Toronto had led Montreal 4-1 less than six minutes into the final frame, and Kapanen’s ill-timed miscue was one maddening nail in the coffin of the Leafs’ eventual 6-5 shootout loss.
“Everybody knows it’s a big mistake on my part,” a deflated Kapanen said after the defeat. “If I knew that rule existed, or if I thought I was actually going to hit his stick, I wouldn’t have done that. I take full responsibility.”
Their first loss of the season was a collective effort by Toronto, with Kapanen’s mistake one of many that cost the Leafs an extra point. But that didn’t lessen the burden Kapanen felt for putting his team in such a compromising position.
“I was out there for a bit and I was pretty tired,” he explained. “I honestly didn’t think [the pieces were] going to even hit him, but I threw my stick that way and I hit him. I was…a little aggravated and I broke my stick, which isn’t going to help us on the PK so I just kind of threw it that way. That’s my fault. I take full responsibility for my actions. I feel bad about it.”
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said he’d “never seen [that penalty taken] by anybody” and knew immediately it would be a cautionary tale for his whole team moving ahead.
“I’m sure he feels bad and would like to have it back. Can’t get it back, so we all have to learn from it,” Babcock said. “I’ll talk to him, but I’m not talking to him now. He’s going to have enough people talking to him. He’ll get the message.”
In the wake of blowing a three-goal, third period lead, there was more than enough messaging to go around. Toronto started the game in an early deficit, when Max Domi capitalized on sloppy defensive zone play to score 1:08 into the first.
Auston Matthews responded with an equalizer to tie the game 1-1, and Alexander Kerfoot’s first of the season, and first as a Leaf, gave Toronto a 2-1 lead going into the second. Trevor Moore added another goal, his second of the season, in the middle frame, and by the time William Nylander’s first of the year got past Carey Price on a third period power play, the Leafs felt confident they had the game well in hand.
That’s when the trouble really started. Just 11 seconds after Nylander’s goal, Jonathan Drouin beat Michael Hutchinson to cut the Leafs lead by two, and 62 seconds after that, Brendan Gallagher’s score had Montreal within a goal.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and for the third time in four nights, against a rested Canadiens team, the Leafs suddenly looked alarmingly fatigued and ineffective. And Montreal kept coming, with Petry’s penalty shot, and Phillip Danault’s go-ahead goal two minutes later, to put Toronto on the ropes.
“It’s no secret we’re going to be [tired] but we can’t let that [force us] into boneheaded mistakes and costing us opportunities at the other end that they’re capitalizing on,” Matthews said.
“We can put a lot of pressure on the opposition. I don’t think we did that tonight,” added Babcock. “I don’t think we had the same kind of juice, for whatever reason. And in the end, it showed.”
Matthews’ second goal of the game with 1:15 left in the regulation secured Toronto a point on the night, but that was the last bit of offence the Leafs could muster. They spent nearly half of the five-minute overtime killing a slashing penalty to John Tavares, and not one skater got a shot past Price in the shootout, while Paul Byron potted the Habs’ shootout winner on Hutchinson.
Toronto’s back-up goalie made his season debut with 37 saves on 42 shots, and Babcock said Hutchinson deserved better than the outcome he got.
“I felt bad for Hutch, because in the end we hung him out to dry,” Babcock said. “I thought Hutch had done a good enough job, when we were up early he had made some real good saves. They were skating by us, and he made some good saves. It’s unfortunate.”
Add it to the list of things Toronto would like to change about Saturday night, starting with how quickly they went from being on top to being buried under.
“That’s a game we have to put away for sure. It’s disappointing; it’s going to leave a sour taste,” Tavares said. “Have to re-group here. It’s been a lot of hockey this week. We fought back, got the point, should have had two, we had our opportunities but we’ll learn from it and be ready for next week.”