Kasperi Kapanen scores OT winner as Maple Leafs beat Red Wings

Kasperi Kapanen scored the winning goal in overtime and the Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to defeat the Detroit Red Wings.

TORONTO — Kasperi Kapanen was just looking to get off the ice.

Dog-tired at the end of an overtime shift, the Maple Leafs winger cut across the slot before stopping and flicking a harmless-looking backhand towards the net as he tumbled in front of a Red Wings defender.

The surprising end result sent his team into the NHL’s Christmas break on a winning note.

Kapanen scored his second goal of the game at 1:53 of the extra period as Toronto fought back from deficits of 3-1 and 4-3 to pick up its fourth straight victory, 5-4 over Detroit on Sunday night.

Kapanen’s winner squeezed through the pads of former Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier — the victim of a couple of howlers during his time in Toronto — and had just enough to get over the goal line.

"I was huffing and puffing," said Kapanen, who already has 14 goals this season after scoring just eight in his first 55 NHL games. "Lucky enough it went in."

John Tavares, who also had an assist, tied the game with 7.6 seconds left in regulation for Toronto (25-10-2) on a deflection as Scotiabank Arena erupted in celebration.

Morgan Rielly added a goal and an assist of his own for the Leafs, Frederik Gauthier scored his first of the season, and Garret Sparks made 26 saves for the win.

"We had to fight our way back," Tavares said. "Just competing right to the end."

Frans Nielsen, Filip Hronek, Michael Rasmussen and Christoffer Ehn replied for Detroit (15-18-5). Bernier stopped 19 shots for the Red Wings.

Tavares knotted things up late regulation when he tipped his 24th past Bernier off Jake Gardiner’s point shot with Sparks on the bench.

"I saw the puck from the point, but there’s no chance I can react to that," Bernier said of the equalizer. "It was a hell of a tip."

Tavares nearly won it a minute into overtime on near-highlight-reel setup from Mitch Marner, but he shot high over Bernier’s net from in tight before Kapanen sealed it.

"This group never gives up," Kapanen said. "There’s always a chance we’re going to come back."

Tied 3-3 through 40 minutes, Nazem Kadri had a chance right at the end of a Toronto power play in the third, but his redirection of a William Nylander pass hit the crossbar.

Nielsen eventually snapped the deadlock with 7:57 left when he buried his seventh on rebound past Sparks, who was making his first start for in place of No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen since allowing five goals on 32 shots in Detroit’s 5-4 overtime victory on Dec. 6.

The Red Wings led 2-1 after the first and stretched that advantage at 9:53 of the second when Ehn took a long pass before fighting off both Travis Dermott and Justin Holl and chipping a backhand up and over Sparks for his first NHL goal.

A sluggish Toronto team got some life thanks to its fourth line 2:59 later when Gauthier snapped his first off a pass from Par Lindholm. Trevor Moore, an emergency recall from the AHL Marlies after winger Tyler Ennis broke his ankle on Saturday, picked up the second assist for his first NHL point in his debut.

"A lot of nerves, but it was fun," said Moore, 23. "I just tried to take everything in."

The Leafs, who came in having scored 18 goals over the last three games, then put their skill on display to tie the game with exactly six minutes left in the second. Tavares took a pass and drew the puck up between his own skates before whipping a feed to Rielly, who made no mistake upstairs for his 13th.

Toronto got off to a fast start when Kapanen outmuscled Red Wings defenceman Trevor Daley — playing the 1,000th game of his NHL career — to bang home his 13th just 27 seconds into the first.

Detroit got that one back at 3:45 on a horrendous defensive sequence from Toronto. Gardiner cleared the puck in front of his own net right to Hronek, who fired a shot that went off Sparks, off Nikita Zaitsev and dribbled over the line for his second.

The visitors pushed ahead with 41.8 seconds left in the period on a delayed penalty when Rasmussen tipped a shot from Dylan Larkin for his sixth as Detroit outshot Toronto 14-3 in the opening 20 minutes.

"I like the resiliency when we need it," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. "I wish we didn’t have to use it.

"(The season’s) 82 games and when you look at it at the end, the teams that win lots win 3-2, they come back, they find ways to win. That’s what good teams do. It’s not perfect every night."

Notes: Rielly leads all NHL defenceman in goals and points (44). He now has three goals and eight assists during a five-game point streak. … Marner’s four-game point streak (six goals, three assists) came to an end. … Bernier played three seasons with the Leafs from 2013 to 2016. … Holl drew into the lineup after 23 consecutive games as a healthy scratch. … Toronto returns to action Friday at Columbus before hosting the New York Islanders on Saturday in the first game for Tavares against his former team since signing with the Leafs in free agency.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.