Leafs’ Kapanen dials up physical play during scoring drought

Kasperi-Kapanen-Toronto-Maple-Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal against the Boston Bruins with teammate Kasperi Kapanen during second period NHL playoff hockey action in Toronto on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Frank Gunn / CP)

BOSTON — Kasperi Kapanen didn’t leave his scoring drought behind in the regular season, so as the Toronto Maple Leafs winger continues to grind through the playoffs with zeroes across the board under his offensive categories, he’s trying to find other ways to make his presence felt.

That’s why he’s been so aggressive on the forecheck against the Boston Bruins, registering 12 body checks in the series — trailing only Zach Hyman (15) and Andreas Johnsson (14) among the Leafs.

"That’s part of my job," Kapanen said Friday before Game 5 at TD Garden. "It’s part of my job to get on the forecheck and make their ‘D’ not have a good night, not want to go get pucks.

"I’m trying to do that as much as I can. I think I’m a decent enough size body to kind of run around and be physical."

Of course, it wasn’t physical play that made Kapanen a first-round draft pick or earned him a coveted spot on Auston Matthews’s right wing. It didn’t help him score 20 goals this season either.

So it’s been a test of both will and patience for the 22-year-old, whose only goal since Feb. 27 came in the season finale at Montreal.

"I thought he had a real dip and then he’s really come on," said Leafs coach Mike Babcock. "He’s been physical. He’s been quick. I think when you jam everything together you can paint any picture you want, but I also think if you just even look at his last game, I thought he was pretty effective last game.

"He needs to continue to do that and to be physical and shoot the puck. Throw it in from wherever he’s at."

Kapanen has 11 shots on Tuukka Rask in the series, but many have come off the rush from distance. He’s looking to do a better job of establishing position at the front of the net so that linemates Matthews and Johnsson have an option for tips and rebounds.

He’s also leaned on the advice of his father, Sami, who has told him simply to "stay happy, stay positive."

"I’ve just got to hit the net and hold on to pucks and make plays out there," Kapanen told Sportsnet earlier in the series. "It doesn’t mean I’m going to start dangling anybody or anything like that, it’s just being smart with the puck and making better plays."

There’s been very little to differentiate the Leafs and Bruins in the series so far. At even strength, the shots are 117-117 and the goals are 7-7. Toronto has a slight edge in scoring chances (54.6 per cent), shot attempts (51.5 per cent) and expected goals (8.91-7.77).

A goal from someone like Kapanen could make a big difference with the series now down to a best-of-three.

"When we’re out there 5-on-5 it’s pretty even, to be honest," said Kapanen. "A lot of stuff has been happening on the penalty kill and on the power play. You know, 5-on-5, it’s tough. But I still think I can do a better job of trying to get myself free and being in front of the net and tipping pucks.

"I know how to do that as well. So it’s going to be a fun night tonight and we’ll see what happens."

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