Elias, Merrill score in 32-second span, Devils win
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Don’t write off the New Jersey Devils’ playoff chances, just yet.
The Devils are getting good goaltending from Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur, and anything is possible when the guy in the nets is on his game.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are another story. They’re struggling in goal with Jonathan Bernier out with a groin injury and they are barely hanging on to a playoff spot.
It was on display Sunday night.
Schneider made 21 saves and withstood a furious late attack and Devils posted a much-needed 3-2 win over Toronto, sending the struggling Maple Leafs to their fifth straight loss without Bernier.
The win moved the Devils within five points of Toronto for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Washington is a point behind the Maple Leafs with a game in hand and Columbus is two points back with two games in hand.
”I know the statistics don’t say that but I really feel we can win every game,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said of the Devils’ playoff chances after winning for only the second time in six games.
”You look at our schedule and if our goaltending continues to play the way it is, I think we can win every game.”
The Devils won this matchup by taking advantage of Toronto mistakes to take a 3-0 lead early in the second period.
Rookie defenseman Jon Merrill set up a second-period breakaway goal by Patrik Elias and scored 32 seconds later to build the lead. Damien Brunner had scored in the first period.
”Anything is possible,” Devils captain Bryce Salvador said. ”We are not looking 10 games ahead. We’re just looking at the next game. We’re trying to play every game like it’s the last game.”
Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel scored for the Maple Leafs, who saw embattled goaltender James Reimer give up three goals on 10 shots in less than 22 minutes of action.
The skid ties Toronto’s longest of the season and it could not have come at a worse with nine games left in the regular season.
New Jersey, which was shut out twice in its recent slide, capitalized on bad plays by the Maple Leafs.
Brunner, who had been a healthy scratch the past two games, gave the Devils the lead with his 11th goal of the season. Defenseman Marek Zidlicky started the play with a pass up the ice to Adam Henrique that started an off-man rush. Henrique found Brunner coming down the right side and his shot from the circle went over Reimer’s glove.
The game changed in the opening two minutes of the second period and Merrill was the catalyst.
Controlling the puck in his own end, he made a stretch pass that got Elias behind defenseman Morgan Rielly. Elias skated in on Reimer and made a move to his backhand that deked the goaltender out of position for a shot into an empty net.
Defenseman Peter Harrold, who had not dressed in the Devils’ 12 games following the Olympic break, carried the puck low into the Maple Leafs right circle and sent a pass toward the net. Ryane Clowe had it hit off him and go to the left point, where Merrill unloaded a shot that squeezed through the goaltender and rolled into the net.
”I think that was the best 30 seconds of my career so far,” Merrill said with a laugh. ”Everyone in here believes. We know if we keep playing our game and doing things right, we are going to get wins and points and we can make it.”
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle sent Drew MacIntyre to replace Reimer after the third goal. He had been playing for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies this season before being recalled after Bernier was hurt. He finished with 14 saves.
The Maple Leafs played a lot better the rest of the game. Bozak put them on the board at 5:26 of the second period, redirecting a pass by Rielly on a power play into an open net.
Kessel got his 36th of the season with 1:31 to play after Toronto pulled its goaltender with more than two minutes left in regulation. Kessel crashed into the net after the goal but returned for a wild final 91 seconds in which Schneider made two big saves.
”We have lot of games left we have to come together as a team and battle,” said Bozak, who repeatedly said that the team let Reimer down and it wasn’t fair to blame the goaltender.
Carlyle refused to discuss his goaltending situation.
”We have to find a way to stop the bleeding here and do everything in our power to regroup with this hockey club and get them playing to a higher level,” he said.
”When we do play for stretches, we look like a team that could play with anybody, and then we are inept in some areas where the puck doesn’t bounce our way, or hits a post. All the good fortune we had earlier seems piled against us.”
Toronto had plenty of good scoring chances the rest of the way with none greater than a two-man advantage for 1:16 late in the period. Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson had big shots that Schneider stopped in winning his second straight after losing the previous three.
Schneider’s best saves might have been early in the third period when he came across the crease and stopped James van Riemsdyk in close and made a glove save on Bozak after the Leafs pulled their goaltender.
The game was David Clarkson’s first in New Jersey since signing with the Maple Leafs as a free agent after last season.
NOTES: Bernier did not make the trip to New Jersey in missing his fifth straight game. … Harrold’s assist was his first point since Nov. 12 against the Rangers. … For the second game in a row, Jagr hit a post with a shot. … Van Riemsdyk has one goal in his past 11 games. … The Devils dressed seven defensemen. Eric Gelinas got the odd shift with the fourth line.