Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) makes a save on Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter (22) during the third period at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Maple Leafs 2-1 in a shootout Wednesday. (Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)
The Minnesota Wild controlled a game the Maple Leafs appeared to be on the verge of winning, writes Mike Brophy. Then a costly mistake and a bad bounce led to Toronto falling short 2-1 in the shootout on Wednesday.
Phil Kessel often brings fans out of their seats with his speed, finesse and offensive expertise. On this occasion, however, he took the wind out of their sails.
With his Toronto Maple Leafs clinging to a 1-0 lead and having just killed off a five-minute Minnesota power play, Kessel made a horrible giveaway in his own zone to Minnesota's Charlie Coyle. That wasn't the worst of it. The Wild's second-year centre took a shot that hit teammate Zack Parise's skate in front of the net and then bounced off Kessel's skate and into the net ruining goalie Jonathan Bernier's shutout attempt.
Suddenly a game the Maple Leafs appeared to be on the verge of winning, thanks in a large part to the play of their goaltender Jonathan Bernier, slipped away.
The Wild, which controlled the game territorially and on the shot clock, forced the game into overtime and then won it 2-1 in a shootout. The Maple Leafs, 11-6-1, now face the revamped Sabres Friday in Buffalo and again at home on Saturday.
Kessel, who played college hockey at the University of Minnesota, tried to make amends late in OT when he made an end-to-end that concluded with a quick snap shot, but he was turned back by Minnesota goalie Josh Harding. He had another chance at atonement in the shootout, but fluffed his shot.
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle doesn't often let his assessment of the on-ice officials creep into his post-game commentary, but Wednesday night was the exception.
"It's frustrating when you get the number of penalties called against us tonight, and then the major penalty which we killed off," Carlyle said. "We thought we had momentum and then we had control of the puck in our zone and we coughed it up and it ended up in our net."
In the first period Kadri went hard to the net looking for a rebound on a Joffrey Lupul shot and drilled Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. It appeared like the principal point of contact was Backstrom's head as Kadri made no attempt whatsoever to avoid the Minnesota stopper. In fact it appeared that Kadri emphasized the contact. Backstrom played for another 3:24, but at the next TV timeout left for the dressing room to be replaced by Josh Harding. It was Harding's second relief appearance in two games against Toronto this season. Harding, by the way, didn't start the game because he wasn't feeling well.
Kadri talked about the play between the first and second periods and offered, "I think I got just a little too in tight and I saw Lupes turn around and I actually tipped the puck and I think I hit the post and I think as I was trying to get the rebound I just ran out of real estate."
In the third period Kadri delivered what appeared to be a textbook shoulder check on Granlund against the boards, but was assessed a match penalty. Of the two hits, the first one appeared to be the worst, even though it only drew a minor penalty.
Carlyle was not impressed with the decision to eject Nazem Kardri from the game.
"It's beyond me, the five-minute major," Carlyle said. "I just looked at it and he made initial contact with the shoulder and the kid had his head down. (Nazem) didn't have his arms up and he ran into the player. Granland snapped his head back and obviously the referee saw it differently."
Rielly makes mark
Rookie defenceman Morgan Rielly was added to the lineup as the Maple Leafs seventh defenceman (with left-winger Frazer McLaren a scratch) and chipped in an assist on Toronto's goal. His wrist shot from the point was stopped by Harding, but left-winger Mason Raymond popped the rebound in. It was Raymond's sixth goals and 12th point of the season and Rielly's sixth helper.
Clarkson continues to struggle
Maple Leafs right winger David Clarkson has now played eight games and has yet to score. The high-priced free agent signing had 14 goals in the past two years on the power play with his old team, the New Jersey Devils, but hadn't been getting much power-play time with the Leafs. That changed against Minnesota. Clarkson played 3:33 of extra-man ice time, but again failed to connect. He had one shot on goal.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.