Daniel Winnik injured in Maple Leafs loss to Avalanche
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Daniel Winnik (26) is treated on the ice after sustaining an injury in the first period against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs just can’t seem to have a road trip void of drama and they certainly added a Mile High chapter on Thursday.
From a suspension, to at least two injuries and finally a continuation of the drama on the ice, the Leafs fought back late to force overtime at the Pepsi Center only to lose 4-3 in a shootout when all three Avalanche shooters beat Jonathan Bernier.
Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Alex Tanguay each scored in the penalty-shot competition, guaranteeing the win after Toronto’s second shooter, James van Riemsdyk, fired wide.
It was that kind of a night and day for the Leafs. The thin Colorado air was the least of their problems as the Leafs bench was getting bone bare at times.
The craziness began in the afternoon when fourth-line forward Carter Ashton was suspended 20 games after testing positive for the performance enhancer, Clenbuterol.
Then, two shifts into the game, the Leafs already trailed 1-0 and lost forward Daniel Winnik to a suspected concussion. Clocked hard by Jan Hejda at the Avs blueline, Winnik landed on his back with his head slamming on the Pepsi Center ice.
After not moving for several minutes, Winnik appeared to be out cold and was loaded on a stretcher and taken to the Leafs locker room. By the first intermission, the first-year Leaf was moving fine, however, and talking to his teammates and afterwards spent some time talking to his friend, Denver Broncos offensive lineman Orlando Franklin.
“He told us to finish the game hard,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said.
They did that, with both Winnik and defenceman Jake Gardiner out with injury and Phil Kessel hobbled for a few shifts with an undisclosed injury. Kessel was the last player to leave the Toronto dressing room but would not discuss the situation.
Winnik, though, certainly survived a scare.
“The bad part of it is he was out of it and that left everybody gasping,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “He did twist his neck, but the brunt of the weight of his body seemed to roll on his shoulder so he was lucky.
“He’s 100% fine. He says nothing is bothering him.”
Gardiner, meanwhile, was hobbling in the Leafs dressing room but was suffering from what Carlyle called a bone bruise.
The good luck ended in the shootout when Bernier admitted he was rattled after Duchene beat him with a shot he wasn’t expecting. That allowed Tanguay to make it a clean sweep.
“It’s not easy, but you would like to make at least one save in the shootout to give your team a chance,” Bernier said.
Despite all that drama and another slow start, the Leafs managed to make a game of it against an Avalanche team coming off a 112-point season, but one with just three wins in its 14 games prior to the date with the Leafs.
Some sloppy play in their own end resulted in what appeared to be a game winner for Duchene at 11:45 of the third. The Avs forward was able to slip a wraparound under Bernier. The play was set up when Stuart Percy was stripped of the puck, a common ailment of the team as it continues to struggle in its own end this season.
But the Leafs weren’t done yet, determined to avoid going 0-for-2 on the two-game Western Conference road trip. They squared it up with 1:16 remaining after getting a bounce to go their way with Bernier on the bench for the extra attacker. After some quick work from Kessel, Richard Panik was the Leaf to force overtime when a “shot” that was headed wide, bounced off Nate Guenin’s skate and into the Colorado net.
The quick start Carlyle had hoped for never materialized as the Avalanche got on the board just 31 seconds into the game when Bernier was caught swimming outside of his crease and Nick Holden buried it in the empty net for his first of the season.
Seconds later, the Winnik injury silenced the Pepsi Center and both benches, sucking much of the emotion out of the Pepsi Center.
Kessel’s seventh of the season tied it up at 1-1 late in the period after he batted a waist-high puck past Berra. That got the Leafs out of the period equal though they were fortunate to be in that position.
Kessel later added an assist to give him 18 points on the season and solo third in NHL scoring, one point behind the Penguins Sidney Crosby and Philly’s Jakub Voracek.
The Leafs took the lead at 4:43 of the second when they solved an Avalanche penalty-killing unit that hadn’t been scored on in its previous 29 short-handed situations. A nifty pass from in tight by van Riemsdyk allowed Tyler Bozak to score his fifth of the season.
The lead was short-lived, however, as exactly a minute later, Tanguay’s breakaway deke was too clever for Bernier to handle and he put the puck just inside the left post to bring the score back to 2-2.
Carlyle delivered a mild surprise when the opening lineup was released as defenceman Morgan Rielly was a healthy scratch for the first time this season and rookie Percy drew in.
“We feel Morgan needs to improve in some areas of his game,” Carlyle said. “That’s as plain as I can say it. There’s more for Morgan to give.”
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