WASHINGTON – Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock doesn’t often get through a media availability without making mention of the “right way” of doing things.
There’s no manual to detail this ambiguous standard that he’s working tirelessly to drill home (though we’re not privy to what might be under the players’ stalls), but if you watched the Leafs’ double-overtime triumph over the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of their opening-round series on Saturday night, you might have an idea.
There were hard lines, heavy shifts, back pressures, and bodies behind pucks. There was attention to detail, responsibility and support in all three zones.
It was the sort of complete buy-in that allowed the eighth-seeded Maple Leafs to even the playing field in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and limit the NHL’s third highest scoring five-on-five team to just a single goal in over 72 minutes under that condition on Saturday night.
What it didn’t allow for was a whole lot of creativity.
That was, until the fourth line produced an unlikely moment of first-line artistry – but not without a careful peek over the shoulder first.
Perhaps prompted by the shouts of Kasperi Kapanen, Brian Boyle checked his blindspot (to make sure that it was, in fact, the “higher percentage play”) and swung a feathered backhand drop pass to the cutting rookie, who popped the overtime winner inside the post Braden Holtby vacated to track Boyle.
The goal, scored near the 12-minute mark of the second overtime period, sent the Maple Leafs home with a deserved split against the juggernaut Capitals.
It was Kapanen’s second goal of the game, and his biggest since scoring the overtime winner in the gold-medal final of the World Junior Championship for his native Finland.
And it was the contribution Boyle, still without a goal since being traded to the Maple Leafs six weeks ago, had been dying to deliver.
“That was a pretty good feeling,” he said.
Just moments earlier, Boyle received a firm handshake and slap on the back in the hallway from the passing Lou Lamoriello, who acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning for his leadership qualities, versatility in a fourth-line centre role, and ability to kill penalties.
There would have been no such greeting, however, if his teammates didn’t pick him up twenty minutes earlier. Boyle took a sloppy enough penalty in the first bonus period that it had to have been called, even in overtime, leading the Capitals, who had already scored twice with the man advantage, to their seventh power play of the game.
Boyle shattered his stick over the crossbar on his path to the penalty box in a moment of frustration, knowing that his mistake could potentially undo the progress that his rookie-laden club made in just their second postseason game. It would have haunted him.
Even long after the successful kill and overtime winner he set up, that mistake still seemed to be gnawing at him.
He said with great sincerity he just didn’t want to be the headline.
Not for that reason, anyway.