With playoff whispers filling the city of Toronto as a result of the recent Maple Leafs revival, many felt that this week would define whether the Leafs were playoff contenders, or merely pretenders.
Martin Brodeur was at his usual best, making several big stops, and Zach Parise scored two goals to pace New Jersey to a 4-1 win over Toronto.
Parise scored his 26th and 27th goals of the season to open, and close the scoring. Also scoring for New Jersey were Brian Gionta and David Clarkson.
Nik Antropov replied for the Maple Leafs, adding to his career high totals. Antropov now has 24 goals for the Leafs this season.
Vesa Toskala made 21 saves in the loss, while Martin Brodeur made 41 saves in a winning cause.
New Jersey has taken all three meetings between the two teams this season.
Parise opened the scoring for the Devils on a hard working play where he was able to dump the puck into the Leafs zone. He and his linemates gave chase and were rewarded when Jamie Langenbrunner picked off a Vesa Toskala pass and threw it out front to a waiting Parise, who turned and fired the puck past the Finnish netminder, who was never able to get set.
5:11 into the second frame Brian Gionta drove to the net and was too much for Leafs defender Pavel Kubina to handle. Gionta was left alone on the doorstep and was able to deposit the puck into a largely open cage.
At 16:47 of the second frame the Leafs cut the deficit to one when their persistence paid off. A Tomas Kaberle point shot was knocked down by Brodeur, but a opportunistic Antropov was able to knock the puck in from the blue paint.
The tide of the game was turning. It appeared the Leafs had set themselves up for a great third period.
Only on this night, it was not to be.
9:21 into the third period, David Clarkson was able to tap in on a two-on-one, converting on a great feed from John Madden. There was some controversy on the play as Dominic Moore was hit from behind in his own zone, forcing him to turn the puck over, leading to the odd-man rush.
With still over half the period left, there was plenty of time for the Leafs to regroup and get back to their game plan. All they had to do was seal up the cracks. And they just couldn't hold it down.
Zach Parise added his second of the night on a pretty passing play with Patrick Elias at 10:52. A badly timed pinch by Tomas Kaberle left Pavel Kubina all alone to defend against the two talented New Jersey forwards.
The Leafs head off to Beantown for a meeting with the Bruins this Thursday. Then, in a schedule quirk they will return home Saturday night to tackle the Devils on Hockey Night In Canada.
--Is it just me or are the Devils not as dull of a hockey team any more? They use their speed, don't trap as much (they haven't stopped completely mind you) and they have some real talented forwards to watch.
--All this playoff talk is infectious I guess. How else do you explain Darcy Tucker absolutely levelling Jamie Langenbrunner like it was game seven? It's not just Darcy, and it isn't just the Leafs either. Both teams have been very physical tonight.
--Mats Sundin is playing with an edge, a fire under his belly. And if you're a Leafs fan, nothing could make you happier. History has shown an angry Mats is a good thing to have on your side. He seems to thrive on the extra motivation.
--As great as Toskala has been this year, I did not like the goal at all tonight scored by Parise. It wasn't entirely his fault though. I've said many times during these recaps that there needs to be more communication between goalie and defense for Toronto, and this play proves my point well. Kaberle is too deep in the corner, no other defender comes back to be a second option, or at the very least a decoy. This leaves Toskala with only one option, the most obvious one, and New Jersey took advantage.
--Twenty-Four. Hours in a day, bottles in a case, popular T.V. show, and now Nik Antropov's goal total. Who would have thought the big forward would have a shot at a thirty-goal season? Even if he fails to reach that plateau, it has still been a very good year for the Kazakh.
--The Devils' third goal was all about patience for Toronto, or maybe perhaps a lack thereof. White and Colaiacovo go to the same man, which causes confusion for the forwards who have came back. Add to that the fact that Moore was taken out of the play, and it was a breakdown all over the ice, leading to New Jersey's third goal.
--Down by a few goals you have to take some chances, and sometimes taking those chances backfires, which happens on the fourth goal. A terribly timed pinch by Tomas Kaberle, a lazy backchecking effort by Nik Antropov, and that leaves Pavel Kubina out to dry, trying to do the snow angel in order to cover two very fast, talented Jersey players.
--The hit on Moore is definitely one of those rulebook anomalies. Some would argue that it is a hit from behind, while others would beg to differ. Some view the hit as fine because of the fact that Moore turned into it, and even still was not thrown into the boards. I think it is a rule the league needs to make much clearer, for the benefit of fans, players and officials.
Sundin Named Week's First Star
Toronto Captain Mats Sundin was recognized for his contributions to the Maple Leafs revival as he was named the NHL's first star of the week. the Swedish born centre recorded eight points in four games. The Leafs record in those games was 3-0-1.
New Leafs GM: Andrew Raycroft?
Earlier today during practice seldom used backup goalie Andrew Raycroft joked that he could get more playing time, if he, or his father were the new Leafs GM.
Many in Toronto are singing Raycroft's praises for being such a good sport in what no doubt has to be a very difficult time for him.
Game Time: 7 PM on TSN
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