After one of their most impressive wins of the season last night against Columbus, the challenge for this young Leafs team would be not to come out flat or take lightly a New Jersey Devils team that entered tonight last in the Eastern Conference. After all, tonight’s two points are just as important as last night’s two points.
Things got off to an inauspicious start, as John Moore beat Curtis McElhinney with the Devils first shot of the game to make it 1-0 New Jersey. It was definitely a goal McElhinney would like to have back, as it hit his blocker, fell between his legs, and trickled into the net. The Leafs would answer though, as they drew a penalty just minutes later, and this power play would be a record breaking one, as William Nylander found Auston Matthews for a one timer. While Matthews’ shot didn’t go in, it did sit behind Devils netminder Keith Kincaid long enough for Josh Leivo to sweep the puck into the cage to tie the game at one. Nylander drew the secondary assist on the goal, breaking a four way tie for the longest rookie points streak in Leafs history, as he pushed his streak to ten games. McElhinney would settle in after that, making several key saves while the Leafs were killing a penalty to Brian Boyle, who hooked Adam Henrique on a breakaway, and was lucky not to be called for a penalty shot. Later in the period, with the teams at four on four following a scrum that ensued when Josh Leivo fired a shot after the whistle, Auston Matthews found Nylander on a give and go and Nylander made no mistake, firing the puck past Kinkaid to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead that they’d take into the locker room after one period.
This was a period dominated by the Leafs. Two minutes and one second into the period, Tyler Bozak fed Mitch Marner entering the zone, and Marner fired a shot off of Kinkaid’s pad, JvR was there to clean up the rebound to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead. This was a significant goal for two reasons. First, it was Bozak’s 50th point of the season, the first time he’s ever reached that plateau. He was challenged to up his game and he’s certainly done that this season. Second, Marner’s assist was his 40th of the season which ties a Leafs rookie record held that has been held by Gus Bodnar for 73 years. After that there wasn’t a lot of drama in the second. The only sustained pressure New Jersey mounted was on a late power play after Nylander crashed into Kinkaid as he drove the net, but McElhinney held the fort and the Leafs took a 3-1 lead into the intermission.
For the fourth consecutive game, the Leafs came out in the third period and played defensively, limiting the opportunities for the opposition to score, while also limiting their own. In theory, this works, but tonight it made for some nervous moments. All seemed to be fine, and the Leafs seemed to be cruising to a 3-1 win, when Morgan Rielly was penalized midway through the third period. That was alright, the Leafs started off the penalty kill fine and things seemed under control, then Matt Hunwick leveled Kyle Palmieri, and all hell broke loose. Travis Zajac jumped Hunwick, Brian Boyle came in and ended up fighting Zajac, whom he could have pummeled but chose to show mercy to, and when the dust cleared, the Devils had a two man advantage somehow. NHL.com has the penalties listed as Hunwick for interference on Palmieri, Boyle for interference on Palmieri, Zajac for roughing on Boyle, and Boyle and Zajac for fighting. I’m not sure where Boyle interfered with Palmieri as he was laying on the ice just long enough to draw a call, but apparently he did. Palmieri, who appeared gravely injured after the Hunwick hit, was well enough to participate in the five on three power play. The Leafs killed off the penalty to Rielly, who arrived on the scene to help kill the second penalty in dramatic fashion as he slid to knock the puck away from the Devils. It would be futile however, as John Moore scored his second of the game from the point to make it a 3-2 game. The Leafs would challenge for interference, as Joseph Blandisi collided with McElhinney, however the contact occurred after the puck went in, so the goal would count. After this sequence, the Leafs just tried to hold on and melt time off the clock as it ticked interminably towards zero. McElhinney was sharp, turning away a backhand try by Miles Wood as Rielly knocked Wood into the end boards. In the end, just after the Devils pulled Keith Kinkaid to get the extra attacker, Nazem Kadri worked the puck out to Leo Komarov, who found Connor Brown wide open for the empty netter to seal the victory. The Leafs win, coupled with the Bruins loss, puts them three points ahead of Boston for third in the Atlantic division with a game in hand. The Leafs are in action next on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
SCORING BY PERIOD
New Jersey Goal 2:59 J. Moore (8) assisted by D. Severson and K. Palmieri
Toronto Goal 5:46 J. Leivo (2) (power play) assisted by A. Matthews and W. Nylander
Toronto Goal 18:17 W. Nylander (21) assisted by A. Matthews and N. Zaitsev
Toronto Goal 2:04 J. van Riemsdyk (23) assisted by M. Marner and T. Bozak
New Jersey Goal 9:04 J. Moore (9) (power play) assisted by P. Zacha and T. Hall
Toronto Goal 19:14 C. Brown (17) assisted by L. Komarov and N. Kadri
SHOTS ON GOAL BY PERIOD
MIKE BABCOCK POST GAME