As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Well, almost. Same team. Same score. Same situation. Different winner. This time it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who won.
In the last game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Maple Leafs on Dec. 7, Dylan Larkin scored on a breakaway at 2:48 of overtime to lead the Detroit Red Wings to victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 5-4.
Fast-forward two weeks and two days, with the game in overtime – only this time Kasperi Kapanen scored at 1:53 of overtime to lead the Maple Leafs to victory over the Red Wings by the same 5-4 score. The Maple Leafs have now won four games in a row.
A Team That Doesn’t Quit
In a post last week on Dec. 19, I commented that Morgan Rielly’s last-minute, second-period, goal reminded hockey players about the need to play to the last minute. This time playing until the end was even more crucial. The Detroit Red Wings were 7.6 seconds from a regulation victory when John Tavares deftly tipped Jake Gardiner’s shot past Bernier. The tip was great hand-eye coordination, and great timing. Then, in overtime, Kapanen scored his second goal of the game when his harmless-looking shot just trickled across the goal line.
Tavares late-period, game-tying goal was his 24th. There is a chance Tavares might score 50 goals this year, which would break his career high of 38 goals (set in 2014-15). Tavares has been consistent throughout his nine-year NHL career. He has never had fewer than 24 goals during any year, tying that mark in this game. But he has never had 50. Is this the year?
Tavares also proved he is a clutch player, who can score when his club needs him most. With eight seconds remaining in regulation, he reached behind him so quickly that it was tough to see him redirect the puck – even in slow motion; but, redirect it he did. Tavares fits this Maple Leaf team – playing well with a group of emerging stars – and scoring 24 goals in 37 games.
Every post I write seems to mention Morgan Rielly in a positive way. In this game, Rielly had a goal and an assist, but perhaps more impressive was his plus-4 in a game that went into overtime – obviously tied. That, to me, seems an interesting stat.
Currently, Rielly leads the NHL with a plus-26 rating and leads all defensemen with 44 points. He now has a five-game point streak (11 points on three goals and eight assists). Interesting, his career total entering this year was a minus-70 (now a minus-46). That’s a huge positive swing.
Kasperi Kapanen scored early and, obviously, scored late. His first goal came 27 seconds into the game, and his second goal was the game-winner that, as noted, trickled in. Hockey fans knew, when the 2018-19 season started, that Kapanen was a great skater – perhaps, with up there with the Edmonton Oiler’s Connor McDavid and the Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin, one of the NHL’s fastest skaters. Kapanen has taken full advantage of William Nylander’s absence and is on pace for 31 goals and 24 assists in his first full season. He won’t sit soon.
Fourth Line Provided Energy When It Was Needed
The Maple Leafs’ fourth line provided energy when the team needed it. Although Frederik Gauthier played less than seven minutes in this game, his first goal of the season (assisted by Par Lindholm) provided a spark the team needed. After the fourth line’s score, the Maple Leafs’ offense seemed to up its play.
Trevor Moore, called up from the AHL Toronto Marlies to replace Tyler Ennis, who broke his ankle during Saturday’s win against the New York Rangers, picked up an assist on Gauthier’s goal – his first NHL point in his first NHL game.
Final Thought: What Is the Psychology of Coming Back?
It seems as if the Maple Leafs are constantly coming back to tie games – sometimes winning, but sometimes losing. Tonight they didn’t play that well at first, but came back to win. What does it tell us about this team? First, it tells us that the team is confident – they don’t quit, especially late in the game.
Second, it tells us they have the offensive skill to make a push when they need to. In this game, the team pushed at the end – and that push paid off. Perhaps some less exciting games might be better for the team, if not for the fans.
As Maple Leafs’ coach Mike Babcock noted, “I like the resiliency when we need it. I wish we didn’t have to use it.”