TORONTO — Given a second chance, he would have done things differently. Made a different decision. Gone for a different play.
But there were no do-overs for Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf, only regret that he gambled and lost on a poke check of Boston winger Nathan Horton, the one that paved the way for David Krejci’s overtime goal that delivered Game 4 to the Bruins Wednesday night.
“I tried to jump to keep the puck in,” the Leafs’ captain said somberly. “Obviously, [Horton] chipped it by. It’s a bad mistake at a bad time to make it. I take responsibility for making a bad play. It’s unacceptable. It cost us the game.”
It also left Toronto on the brink of elimination, down three games to one, as the series shifts back to Boston for Friday night’s Game 5.
“It’s a split-second decision,” Phaneuf said. “It’s a fast game. The guy chipped it by. Like I said, it’s a costly decision.”
Phaneuf leveled Horton, who still managed to push the puck up to Zdeno Chara, leading to a two-on-one rush for Krejci and linemate Milan Lucic on Toronto goaltender James Reimer.
Reimer, who was beaten to the short side by Krejci, said he wouldn’t have done a thing differently.
“[I’d do it] pretty much how I played it,” he said. “I stay at my angle and well positionally. I try to wait [on the shooter] as much as possible. If he passes, do everything I can to get across.”
However, Krejci kept the puck, and at 13:06 of the extra session, polished off his hat trick, and perhaps the Leafs, too.
“I just tried to stay square to the shooter,” said Reimer, who made 41 saves. “It just beat me. I thought I got most of it. I thought I had a good read, but I just didn’t get enough of it.
“I would have played it the same, I’m pretty sure. I just wish I had squeezed it.”
The Leafs were craving a quick start, and got what they needed.
Reimer stopped all 15 first-period shots, and the Leafs and built a 2-0 lead on goals by Joffrey Lupul and Cody Franson.
They even won the much-hashed-over faceoff battle in the period, coming up with 14 of 22 draws (but only 20 of 54 after that).
The way Lupul saw it, the Leafs were routinely quicker to the puck in the first, and able to keep the Bruins on the defensive.
“It was probably our legs,” he said. “We were skating and attacking off the rush. Winning puck battles. Reims made some big saves early. It was a good start for us.”
Reimer made his two important saves right off the bat, stopping Krejci and Daniel Paille in succession at 2:20.
On the counterattack, Lupul gave the Leafs the lead after cashing in Phil Kessel’s deft feed from the right corner.
Franson added his goal at 18:32, with a harmless-looking sweep from the right point that eluded Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, who may have been partially screened by Chara.
That should have given the Leafs plenty of jump heading into the second period.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to keep the Bruins from wrenching away the momentum, and then the lead, with a run of three goals, the last two by Krejci.
Yet just 44 seconds after Krejci’s needle-threading, go-ahead goal at 16:39, Clarke MacArthur, fresh from his one-game benching by coach Randy Carlyle, redeemed himself by jumping on a Rask rebound and firing it home to make it 3-3, and setting the stage for the drama to come.
The Leafs are trying to remain upbeat as they are faced with having to beat the Bruins three games in a row, including twice at TD Garden, where they won Game 2, 4-2.
“They are an experienced team,” said Lupul. “They’re not going to want to come back here [for Game 6]. They’re going to play well at home. They’re going to throw it all at us. We’ve got to be ready for them.”
Phaneuf, still smarting from his miscue, echoed the thought.
“It’s obviously discouraging the way that it ended,” he said. “We’ve got to come back, regroup, and get ready for Game 5.”