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Bad bounce ruins opener for Percy, Maple Leafs

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO -- It was all going smoothly for Toronto Maple Leafs rookie defenseman Stuart Percy in his NHL debut, and then kaboom!

Just like that, a pass by Montreal Canadiens center Tomas Plekanec intended for Alex Galchenyuk hit Percy's skate and deflected past Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier, giving the Canadiens a 4-3 win in the 2014-15 season opener. The goal came with 43 seconds left.

"Disbelief … disappointment," Percy said when asked what went through his mind when the puck crossed the line. "It was tough letting the guys down tonight. It's tough to start the season with a loss."

Stuart Percy
Defense - TOR
GOALS: 0 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 1
SOG: 1 | +/-: 0
It was honorable for Percy to take the blame, but not necessary; he played a strong game. The 25th pick in the 2011 NHL Draft played for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League last season and is being counted on to be one of the Maple Leafs' top six defensemen.

The Maple Leafs, who had a four-season streak of defeating the Canadiens on opening night come to an end, played a strong first period because they were able to match the Canadiens' skating ability. Toronto spent too much time standing around in the second, and Montreal held a slight edge in the third.

Toronto had the first five shots of the game, but when Montreal got its first, by Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens grabbed a 1-0 lead.

"I knew he was going to shoot high, but he fanned on it and it went under me," Bernier said of the goal that came 4:42 into the season.

Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle wants his players to be more of a skating team than they have been the past few seasons, and he wants to get offense from his top three lines, not just the top two.

In an effort to spread ice time around, second-line left wing Joffrey Lupul's minutes were reduced to 14:43; he averaged 18:27 last year.

The Maple Leafs got solid performances from new defensemen Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas, and from speedy rookie forward Brandon Kozun.

Polak, a tough, stay-at-home type, led the game with seven hits. Robidas, a right defenseman, allows the Maple Leafs to shift Dion Phaneuf to his natural left side, where they feel he will be more effective.

Much of the postgame focus was on Percy's bad break. Teammates and his coach came to his defense.

"He's a great player," Bernier said. "He's very composed out there. It was just tough luck, I guess. Obviously the goal was not his fault. I just gave him a tap and told him not to worry about it."

Captain Dion Phaneuf agreed.

"Stuart definitely played very well for us; that was just bad luck," Phaneuf said.

Carlyle also said he felt Percy played a strong game and felt there was one other time when the 21-year-old got caught flat-footed, against Montreal center Manny Malhotra.

"I thought Stu had a heck of a hockey game," Carlyle said. "He's very calm with the puck [even though] the pace of the game is a lot different than it was in exhibition games."

Percy said he felt comfortable playing at the NHL level and knows the pain of having the winning goal bounce in off his skate will eventually ease.

Shaking his head in disbelief, he felt he did everything right on the play. Well, almost everything.

"I saw a guy going to the net and I tried to get his stick, which I did, but I guess I have to move my foot," Percy said. "It's disappointing, but I'll pick my head up tomorrow and get back to work."

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