Maple Leafs defeat Devils
NEWARK — A complete, 60-minute effort continues to elude the Maple Leafs.
They were able to get away with that on Thursday night, beating the shorthanded New Jersey Devils 4-2 despite some inconsistent hockey on 80’s Night at the Prudential Center.
The Leafs went into the game 17 points ahead of the Devils in the Eastern Conference standings, but didn’t demonstrate much in the way of a killer instinct after taking a three-goal lead into the first intermission.
The win was not cemented until Mitch Marner scored into an empty net with 22 seconds remaining.
John Tavares scored two goals as the Leafs finished a three-game season sweep of the Devils, outscoring New Jersey 17-5.
While the Leafs welcomed Zach Hyman back to the lineup after he missed eight games with a sprained ankle, the Devils continued to forge ahead without the injured Taylor Hall, among others.
With some new-look lines, the Leafs took the play to the Devils at times but at others weren’t exactly urgent in their overall effort in front of an announced crowd of 15,280.
The building was funeral-quiet and the Devils looked to be done when the home side struck for a pair of goals 26 seconds apart just past the 16-minute mark of the second period.
Shoddy and loose defensivezone play by Toronto helped result in both goals.
Blake Coleman got the first at 16:07, able to calmly put his own rebound past Toronto goaltender Michael Hutchinson with no Leafs in the vicinity.
Brian Boyle scored at 16:33, taking a pass from Blake Pietila and snapping a shot behind Hutchinson as the Leafs defence pair of Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev couldn’t get untracked.
Earlier in the period, the game might have been over if not for a couple of large saves by New Jersey goalie Keith Kinkaid, who denied Nazem Kadri and Tavares.
The Leafs were in control through the first period, taking a 3-0 lead and generally keeping the Devils to the outside.
Toronto had 18 shot attempts in the opening 20 minutes, 15 of which found the net; New Jersey had 14 shot attempts in total.
Toronto has scored a number of eye-popping goals this season, but the one by Tavares at 19:53 has to land somewhere in the top five.
Marner’s vision, equalled by few, allowed him to spot Morgan Rielly across the ice and feed the defenceman with a backhand pass. Rielly took a few strides toward Kinkaid and passed off to Tavares, who wired a one-timer into the net.
The goal was Tavares’ 301st in the NHL and decidedly was prettier than his 300th. That came at 7:21 when Tavares picked a Jake Gardiner rebound out of a scramble and moved to his backhand, shrugging off the check of Devils centre Travis Zajac to score.
Tavares fell short of what would have been his 10th NHL hat trick and second with the Leafs. Still, we don’t think anyone will argue with the fact Tavares now sits at 29 goals in 43 games with Toronto.
Ron Hainsey’s first goal in 20 games gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead at 4:30. After Hyman and Brown dug the puck out behind the Devils net, Hainsey leaned into a shot at the point that found its way into the top left corner on Kinkaid.
Hyman, as the pre-game thinking went, made himself known in his return.
“He gets the puck back and you spend time in the zone and he is a heavy body who plays the game heavy,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said of Hyman before the game. “He is relentless. The guys who play with him end up spending a lot of time in the offensive zone.”
The Leafs appeared to have lost defenceman Travis Dermott, who hit the boards head-first early in the first when he was hit by Devils forward Brett Seney.
A boarding minor was called on the play, and Dermott got up slowly, eventually making his way to the dressing room. Late in the first period, Leafs Nation exhaled as Dermott returned to the bench and soon after, to the ice.
Auston Matthews had some possession for the Leafs in the offensive zone, but is stuck on one goal in his past eight games.
Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman watches as a puck shot by teammate Mitch Marner, not pictured, slides into the empty New Jersey Devils net in the Leafs’ 4-2 win over the Devils on Thursday.