TORONTO – Luca Caputi’s big homecoming had to share the spotlight with Nikolai Kulemin’s overtime heroics.
Kulemin scored 4:10 into overtime, lifting the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. While Kulemin was the hero with the game-winner, it was also a big night for Caputi. The young forward from Toronto scored in his first home game as a Leaf after being acquired at last week’s trade deadline from Pittsburgh for Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Toronto coach Ron Wilson sent Caputi out on left wing for the game’s opening faceoff, giving the 21-year-old who grew up rooting for the Leafs a unique moment in front of family and friends in attendance.
Caputi rewarded his coach by scoring a game-tying goal 7:13 into the third, setting up Kulemin’s winner.
“The fans gave me a pretty loud cheer there,” Caputi said. “I can’t really describe it right now. I think in the next couple days, hopefully it will sink in. I’m still in la-la land right now.”
Caputi’s goal was indicative of the hard-nosed way he’s expected to approach the game.
“I thought he played pretty well considering he was a little bit anxious before the game with all his family here,” Wilson said. “To be getting the tying goal the way he did, that’s something I’m sure we’ll see a lot of, around the goal crease, bumping, scuffling with the goaltender and stuff like that. Good for him.”
As for sending him out to start the game, Wilson figures he may have curried some favour with the Caputi clan.
“I like to do that with young guys and at least I get their parents on my side for a couple weeks,” Wilson joked. “Usually I get a nice letter from a mom, ‘Thank you for starting my son, it’s the thrill of a lifetime.”‘
Kulemin’s decisive strike came on a bit of a broken play when Mikhail Grabovski tried to slide the puck over to him on a two-on-one. Boston’s Michael Ryder dove back to break up the play, but the puck found its way to Kulemin’s stick. He patiently waited as Ryder became entangled with goalie Tim Thomas, then fired a high shot into the goal for the victory.
“I was just waiting, I saw the puck and put it in,” Kulemin said.
Grabovski was playing for the first time after missing 23 games with a broken wrist.
Wayne Primeau and Carl Gunnarsson also scored for Toronto, while Jonas Gustavsson stopped 26 shots for the win.
Luke Schenn picked up a pair of assists for the Leafs, including a nice play to keep the puck in the offensive zone just before Caputi tied the game.
Mark Recchi and Marco Sturm each scored a goal and added two assists for Boston (29-24-12), while Patrice Bergeron got the Bruins’ other marker.
The Bruins, in a battle for one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff berths, played their first game since losing top centre Marc Savard to a concussion following a controversial hit to the head by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke last Sunday.
Boston also took a hit on the blue-line, as captain Zdeno Chara missed the game with a lower-body injury.
The Bruins took their third lead of the game when Bergeron scored 3:07 into the final frame, but couldn’t hold any of them, coughing up a precious point in their struggle to make the playoffs.
“We stopped moving our feet and being hard on the forecheck,” Bergeron said. “We were hard on their defencemen early and had success, but then we got away from that.”
Boston opened the scoring when Recchi swatted a rebound past Gustavsson just 2:47 into the game as Strum caused some havoc in front of the Toronto goal.
It marked the 11th time in their past 12 games that the Bruins scored first.
The Leafs failed to pull even during a 50-second two-man advantage in the first period, but did tie the game on Primeau’s second-period goal.
Schenn hit Primeau in full flight through the neutral zone and the big Leafs winger stuck a puck through the pads of Thomas on a play the Bruins puckstopper would likely like to have back.
Boston used a two-man advantage of its own to regain the lead. Recchi, the crafty Bruins veteran, sent a quick pass to the side of the net, where Sturm fired the puck past Gustavsson.
Toronto tied the game 2-2 when Gunnarsson’s point shot appeared to deflect on its way to the goal, eluding Thomas with just 1:22 left in the second period.
The Leafs played their best period in the third before taking the two points in overtime.
“Toronto is a team that never stops working hard and they got the result tonight,” Bergeron said.
Notes: Defenceman Jeff Penner made his NHL debut for the Bruins. Phil Kessel, traded from Boston to Toronto last fall, picked up an assist for his first point in five games this year against his old team. Thomas, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, was making his fourth consecutive start for the first time since mid-December. The Bruins were playing the second game of a seven-game road trip, the longest they’ve had since the 2003-04 season. Boston has scored first in 11 of its last 12 games. Announced attendance was 19,499.