The Toronto Maple Leafs’ worst fears could have been realized at Scotiabank Arena on Monday night when goaltender Frederik Andersen was pulled from the game with a possible injury.
The Toronto netminder, who carried the team on his shoulders during its rocky start to the season, was banged up in a collision with Florida Panthers winger Frank Vatrano with 1:36 left in the first period.
Vatrano rushed hard to the crease and plowed into Andersen and dislodged the net. Andersen remained in the game until the intermission but was replaced by Michael Hutchinson to begin the second period. The team announced at the time that Andersen had suffered an upper-body injury and would not return for the rest of the evening.
Afterwards, head coach Sheldon Keefe said Andersen was checked for a possible concussion. Keefe said Andersen passed an examination but was held out for the remainder of the game due to the nature of the injury.
“We want to proceed with caution,” Keefe said.
He said Andersen would be re-evaluated on Tuesday morning. The team plays next on Wednesday in New York against the Rangers.
Andersen’s removal from the game may have led to a crushing 5-3 defeat against a team with which the Maple Leafs are in a tight race for a playoff position. They allowed four consecutive goals in the third period as the Panthers leaped over them in the Atlantic Division standings.
It was Florida’s first victory in Toronto after seven straight losses dating back to April of 2016, and only the fourth time the Maple Leafs surrendered a lead all season when leading after the second period.
“I think we played 45 or 50 minutes of good hockey and then let the game get away from us,” Auston Matthews, the Toronto centre, said. “There was a lack of concentration and focus on our part.”
In defeat, Matthews scored his 37th goal. It was his 18th in the last 19 games and leaves him one behind David Pastrnak of Boston, who leads the league.
William Nylander also scored for Toronto, his career-high 25th of the season. Nylander, who had seven last year in 54 games after holding out for a better contract, has a goal in each of the last five games.
Mark Pysyk had three goals for the Panthers for his first career hat trick. He had only four coming into the game over the entire season. Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for the Panthers, his 19th, and Mike Hoffman had the game-winner with 9:47 left in the third. It was also Hoffman’s 19th, and broke a 3-3 tie. Pysyk added an empty-netter with 48 seconds remaining.
Hutchinson, who had won four straight starts, fell to 4-8 on the season in relief. He allowed three goals on 13 shots.
“It didn't go very well, but it's a challenging scenario,” Keefe said. “He came in cold and [was] not expecting to play. He goes in during the second period and other than a couple of dump-ins, I don't know if he had any shots. That's a tough ask of any goalie.”
Hutchinson, who started the season so poorly that it was questionable if he would retain the job as Andersen’s backup, said he learned during the intermission that he would enter the game.
“It's definitely difficult,” Hutchinson said. “It's probably the hardest thing in pro sports as far as going in cold. Baseball players have the bullpen, football quarterbacks can throw a few balls on the sideline.
“As a goalie, you go from sitting around to being thrown right into it.”
The Maple Leafs dominated the first 20 minutes but could not beat opposing goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The two-time Vézina Trophy winner turned away 10 shots in the first 11 minutes 24 seconds as his teammates failed to generate one. He had 15 by the end of the period.
Bobrovsky entered the game with a sub-par 3.26 goals-against average and .897 save percentage, but had won nine of his past 13 decisions. He finished with 31 saves and is 11-5 now in his career against Toronto.
In a break for the Maple Leafs, the Panthers were without team captain Aleksander Barkov, who suffered a lower-body injury in a 4-0 loss to Montreal on Saturday in their first game since the all-star break. Before that, Florida had won six straight games.
"We want to make sure we're ready to play,” Joel Quenneville, the Panthers coach, said earlier in the day. "Everybody's looking for the same two points. [This game could be] a huge four-point swing.”
Kasperi Kapanen returned to Toronto’s lineup after being held out on Saturday against Ottawa for being late to a team meeting. The 23-year-old forward said he overslept on Friday. It was first game he has missed this season.
“I was late and they felt sitting out was something I deserved, and I agreed,” Kapanen said following the morning skate.
He admitted to being late to practice when Keefe was his coach with the American Hockey League Toronto Marlies.
“It is not me not caring,” Kapanen said. “It’s an honest mistake.”
Keefe said he did not want to make too big a deal about it.
“It’s about trying to reset [a] player and help him grow and get better,” the head coach said. “We want him to be the player he is capable of being. You have to be sympathetic to what the situation might be. Sometimes innocent things happen.
“He is a big part of our team.”
Even if Andersen returns quickly, the loss could leave the Maple Leafs with second thoughts about their backup goaltending. Hutchinson has played better lately but entered the game with a 3.56 goals-against average and .890 save percentage.
“I’m not going to answer that,” Keefe said when asked if the team was prepared to play Hutchinson for a stretch if Andersen’s injury is more serious than thought.