Toronto — The holiday break is going to feel just a little sour.
The slumping Red Wings controlled a large portion of the game Sunday in Toronto, but the Maple Leafs found a way to secure a 5-4 overtime victory.
John Tavares tied it at 4 with 7.6 seconds left in the third period, tipping a shot past goaltender Jonathan Bernier to force overtime. Then in the extra session, Kasperi Kapanen scored his second goal — he opened the game’s scoring at 27 seconds then closed it in overtime — with a spinning backhander in the slot past Bernier at 1 minute, 53 seconds to cap a frustrating night for the Wings.
“We played a great road game against a real good team,” forward Frans Nielsen said. “We had them on their heels. It was just a tough loss.”
Nielsen put back a loose puck to the side of goalie Garret Sparks at 12:03 in the third period, giving the Wings a 4-3 lead.
It looked as if that would be enough for the Wings to go into the holiday break with momentum.
But Tavares, the hometown boy who signed as an unrestricted free agent in the summer, tied it with his 24th goal to force extra hockey.
“That’s what he does, and that’s not the last time he’s going to do it,” said Nielsen, who spent many years with Tavares on the New York Islanders. “He’s just the kind of player that the bigger the game, the better he is. He loves being in that situation.”
Frans Nielsen talks about the Red Wings' performance in Sunday's 5-4 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Nikas Kronwall blamed himself for the loss, failing to clear the puck and giving Toronto another chance to set up.
“Terrible play, you just give them another chance and there’s no need for that,” Kronwall said. “Terrible play by me and it cost us two points.”
The Wings (15-17-6, 36 points) have only won once in the last seven games (1-4-2), while the Leafs (25-10-2, 52 points) have won four in a row.
“We played good enough to win the hockey game, probably deserved to win the hockey game in a lot of ways,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Unfortunately we didn’t. We didn’t quite finish the job in the last eight seconds.
“It doesn’t mean it was mistake-free. They’re a team that can make their own offense at times. We got scored on the first shift, but our guys dug in and played excellent after that.”
The Wings got scoring from unexpected sources through the opening 40 minutes.
Filip Hronek recorded his second goal, Michael Rasmussen scored his sixth and first in 17 games, and Christoffer Ehn notched his first career NHL goal.
Ehn’s goal, a backhander while being dragged down by defenseman Justin Holl, gave the Wings a 3-1 lead at 9:53 of the second period.
“I got the shot off and it was a relief, for sure, to see it go in,” Ehn said. “It’s a dream come true, but unfortunately we didn’t get the result.”
Niklas Kronwall feels the Red Wings did enough to win Sunday's game at Toronto but came up shot in a 5-4 overtime loss. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
The Wings appeared to have control and had the Leafs frustrated and flustered.
But the Leafs have the ability to manufacture offense quickly, and did so late in the second period to get back in the game.
Without forwards Andreas Athanasiou (upper body), Anthony Mantha (hand) and Darren Helm (upper body), and defensemen Mike Green (lower body) and Danny DeKeyser (upper body), the Wings were undermanned.
But they overcame as they’ve done often this season against the better teams in the NHL. After the three-day break, it’s up to the Wings to bring that type of consistent effort on a nightly basis.
“It seems when we play tough teams in the league, we raise our own game and play our best hockey,” Nielsen said. “We have to find a way to do that all the time. The way we played tonight, we have to find a way to bring this every night.”