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TORONTO — First they got a little mad, playing an up-tempo, physical style that had their opponents on the ropes. And just when it looked like they might also get even and avenge a recent loss, the Winnipeg Jets self-destructed and gift-wrapped a win for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A 2-0 lead heading into the third period quickly turned into a 3-2 regulation defeat Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena, with a pair of Toronto goals just 26 seconds apart, coming with the clock ticking down to what appeared to be an impressive road win for the Jets.
Jake Gardiner tied it with 3:11 left to play, and then Kasperi Kapanen scored the winner with 2:45 left. No doubt the eight-hour overseas flight to Finland immediately followed the game felt a bit longer for the Jets.
“I think always you should be able to keep a two-goal lead. (But) they have a really good team. That’s something we can’t take away from them, they played a hell of a third period,” forward Patrik Laine said of the Leafs.
“It was a tough finish for us. I think we played really well for the first 50 minutes. And then, well, you gotta be able to fight for a full 60, against that type of team that has good players, too. They’re going to make us pay. Just gotta play a full 60 next game and gotta learn how to play when we’re leading.”
Winnipeg slips to 7-4-1 in falling for the second time in less than a week to Toronto, who improve to 8-3-0. The victory will help ease the pain of the Leafs, at least a little bit, in losing leading scorer Auston Matthews in the second period.
Winnipeg defenceman Jacob Trouba likely earned himself a public enemy No. 1 label when he threw a hard, clean check on Matthews, who immediately went to the bench and appeared to be favouring his shoulder. He then retreated to the dressing room and was ruled out the rest of the night.
“He was just going to the net, just tried to make a hit. Hope he’s all right,” Trouba said following the game. “I haven’t watched it. I thought it was OK, hopefully he bounces back and is OK.”
Unlike some games where it seems inevitable a team is sitting back and might blow it, that was not the case Saturday. Winnipeg seemed fully in control even after Nazem Kadri scored 6:33 into the final frame to cut their lead to 2-1.
“I liked that road game. We did a lot of really good things. I think our heads were in the right place, hands were in the right place. We were doing the right things with the puck. It’s just unfortunate the end result spoils a pretty good game,” captain Blake Wheeler said.
Indeed, it was shaping up to be one of their most complete efforts of the young season, and the fact it would have come in hostile territory in a back-to-back situation against an elite and well-rested opponent would have made it even more impressive. The Jets had played Friday night in Detroit, winning 2-1, while the Leafs had been idle since that victory in Winnipeg last Wednesday.
Kyle Connor finished off a great tic-tac-toe sequence to open the scoring in the first period, taking a pass from Wheeler, who had just been fed the puck by Dustin Byfuglien. Connor’s sixth of the year marks the eighth straight game the Jets have scored a power-play goal.
Kadri was in the box at the time after a dangerous hit-from-behind on Trouba.
Mark Scheifele extended the lead in the second period, with Kadri once again the culprit. This time, Scheifele stripped the puck off the Toronto forward at his own blue line and went the distance, beating Frederik Andersen for his sixth tally of the season, and fourth in as many games.
“I liked our game, the first two periods for sure and chunks of the third. I thought we played a real hard game and looked like we are supposed to look. That’s a real encouraging sign,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said.
With Winnipeg still trying to protect their 2-1 lead following the Kadri goal, Byfuglien tried to reverse the puck behind his own net only to give it to Toronto’s Mitch Marner, who immediately found Gardiner alone in the slot.
Then came Kapanen’s winner, as Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck seemed to go down early and the Leafs winger beat him high.
“We couldn’t close it out. We made two or three mistakes in our end of the ice with the puck, and that was the difference for us. But most of this game will be pretty close to our game,” Maurice added.
Laine began the night on the fourth line with Jack Roslovic and Brendan Lemieux, and the trio had one particularly tough shift in the opening period where they repeatedly turned the puck over. It wasn’t long after that Laine switched spots with Andrew Copp and began skating on a trio with Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev.
“I didn’t like the first two shifts, so we changed, that’s all. And I liked him better. Lowry’s line stays closer together on the puck, and it might be a place that he can find some time,” Maurice said.
It’s been a rough stretch for Laine, who has yet to score in five-on-five play this season.
“Obviously, everybody knows that I’m not playing well right now. That’s the big reason. I started on the fourth line; I think that was just the result of the way I’ve been playing. Just gotta work hard and be able to play the level I used to play and just try to earn those minutes back,” Laine said.
Nikolaj Ehlers had a couple of great chances to extend the lead further, but was stopped on a breakaway and then fired wide of what appeared to be an open net. It seems the monkey he shed off his back earlier in the week when he scored for the first time in 27 games might still be hanging around.
“Shake it off best you can. It’s a long season. These games happen. They’re no fun — it’s no fun losing games in the third period. But we’ve got a lot more coming. Just have to try and have a short memory and move on,” Trouba said.
Winnipeg jumped on a charter immediately after the game to head to Helsinki, Finland. They’ll face the Florida Panthers in a pair of games Thursday and Friday as part of the NHL’s Global Series event.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.