NEWARK, NJ – The Toronto Maple Leafs pushed the New Jersey Devils to the limit Wednesday night at the Prudential Center, beating the home team 6-5 in a sudden death shoot-out. For the first time this season, the Devils have lost three games in a row.
“I’m disappointed. Disappointed in how we played tonight. Obviously, a lot of the players in there have to play better than they have the past three games,” said New Jersey coach Brent Sutter.
Niklas Hagman put the game-winning goal through goaltender Martin Brodeur’s legs on the first sudden-death shot.
Devils right winger Jamie Langenbrunner then lined up against goaltender Vesa Toskala to try to force another round.
Langenbrunner’s shot was deflected over the net, ending the back-and-forth game.
“You pick a hole and hit it. I didn’t get it high enough,” said Langenbrunner.
The team captain was not expected to play Wednesday, after not skating for five days with a lower body bruise.
“I was a little rusty,” he said.
Langenbrunner needed to shake off the rust quickly, as the under-manned Devils were down another forward when Patrick Elias was taken to the locker room 3:46 into the game.
Sutter said Elias was hit in the face with a puck, and was out for almost 20 minutes, forcing Langenbrunner into more ice time.
Without several offensive stars, New Jersey’s defensemen picked up the offensive slack in the first period.
Toronto had kept the puck in their offensive zone for most of the first few minutes, but when the Devils finally had a chance, they capitalized.
David Clarkson scored a tip-in goal 2:32 seconds into the game off of defenseman Mike Mottau’s shot from the right boards.
“I got the puck back to the point, and kept going back to the net,” said Clarkson. “Mottau got a great shot off.”
Defenseman Andy Greene was also credited with an assist, the first of a career-high three helpers on the evening.
Dainius Zubris added another first-period goal, crashing the net and poking in a Brian Gionta rebound.
Toronto seemed to have a renewed fire in the second period. The Leafs continually sent a player to crash the net and screen Brodeur, and the strategy paid off.
Matt Stajan scored two deflected goals within a 1:15 span, including one power play goal, tying up the game.
The Maple Leafs took the lead on a power play when Pavel Kubina moved the puck across the blue line to John Mitchell. Mitchell let a shot rip, and it bounced off of Alexander Steen into the net.
“We didn’t play our system. When we start running around, that’s what happens,” said Greene about Toronto’s offensive outburst.
Sutter called a time out after the third goal, and New Jersey answered with two goals, by Langenbrunner and Collin White.
The Devils seemed to have regained control of the roller-coaster game.
White was assisted by John Madden and rookie forward Matt Halischuk, playing in his first NHL game. Halischuk is the fourth Devil to make his first NHL start this season, replacing another rookie, injured Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond.
With four minutes left in the second period, Zach Parise took a big hit from Toronto left winger Ryan Hollweg. Fans begged the referees to call an elbow on Hollweg, but instead of answering to the penalty box, Hollweg had to answer to Clarkson.
“A guy goes out and hits on of our players, he’s going to have to answer to somebody,” said Clarkson of defending his teammate. “If I hit one of their players, I’d expect him to come after me.”
In the third period, the Devils would not allow Toronto to put together anything in the offensive zone for the first 10 minutes.
But halfway through the period, the Leafs stormed Brodeur, putting five shots on goal within a minute and a half, tying the game.
Mayers was able to lift the puck over Brodeur on the fifth SOG while the goalie was sprawled on the ice.
A minute later, the Leafs again took the lead, when Alexi Ponikarovsky fired from the left wing through the five-hole of Brodeur. It was the Maple Leaf’s third power-play goal of the night.
Without showing any signs of giving up, Zach Parise knocked in a Paul Martin shot from the right goal post less than a minute later. The goal would eventually force overtime.
During regulation, Toronto threw 48 shots on goal, while Toskala only faced 25 from the Devils.
New Jersey had an early opportunity in the extra session to end the game when Luke Schenn was penalized for playing with an illegal stick.
The Devils put six shots up against Toskala, including several close-range shots by Langenbrunner, and the goalie was able to make a save on each one. New Jersey was 0-8 on the power play.
During the shootout, both Elias and Tomas Kaberle got the puck into the net, forcing the sudden-death shootout.
Sutter refused to use the extended days between games or injuries as an excuse for his players.
“All that is irrelevant. The bigger picture is we weren’t very good tonight. That’s the biggest picture of all.”
The Devils next play Atlanta at home on Saturday, 7 p.m. start.