TORONTO – Martin Brodeur is having a devil of a time getting that 667th career win.
The man many believe is the best goaltender to ever play in the NHL has been stuck on 666 since March 23, when he beat the Florida Panthers 2-1. In a rather cruel twist of fate, Brodeur is winless in his past 10 starts with a 0-6-4 record and the New Jersey Devils have tied a franchise record by going winless in their past 10 games, courtesy of a 2-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
James Reimer outdueled Brodeur and Phil Kessel broke a scoreless tie on Toronto's eighth shot of the game at 13:28 of the third period. Jay McClement cemented the win for the home team with a late empty-netter.
For the second straight game, the Devils severely outshot the opposition, but could not score. Last Friday, while hosting the Ottawa Senators, the Devils outshot their guests 33-11, but lost 2-0. Against Toronto, the shots were 32-13 in favor of the Devils, but the score was the same.
And it didn't help that the Maple Leafs have a hot goaltender of their own in Reimer.
The loss for New Jersey equaled a club record set in 1983-84. The Devils have outshot their opponents 65-24 in the past two games, both 2-0 losses.
Devils veteran left wing Patrik Elias was absolutely exasperated following his team's latest loss.
"At a crucial time we hit the post on the power play, and right after that I got a chance and I couldn't score," Elias said. "It's just not happening for us. Yes it's frustrating, but the only thing we can do is keep on playing the same way. It's ironic, I know. You lose 10 in a row and you're saying you want to keep playing the same way, but that's the way it is. It's hard."
Elias said the situation is a little confusing for all involved, including the coaching staff.
"It's not an easy job they have right now," he said. "We don't know what to say and they don't know what to say. It seems like there's no justice out there no for us. It's just these past two games. Of the 10 losses, honestly, I'd say we outplayed the other team in nine of them. It's frustrating."
The Maple Leafs' magic number to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs is now four. Any combination of points gained by Toronto or lost by the Winnipeg Jets adding up to four will guarantee the Maple Leafs a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said left wing Joffrey Lupul has been cleared to play, but he elected to keep him out of the game. Lupul has now missed five games since being hit in the head by former teammate Jay Rosehill on April 4. A member of the Leafs management team told NHL.com Lupul would be back playing, "very soon."
Reimer, whose record improved to 17-5-5, wondered if Brodeur didn't have the tougher night between the two of them even though he faced much fewer shots.
"It's tough sitting there with no shots," Reimer said. "And then you face a power play with one of the League's best snipers coming at you in Kessel. Nobody understands unless you are a goalie exactly how tough a game like that is."
Reimer, easily the game's first star, was the difference between his team winning and losing. His coach said as much.
"Obviously, we didn't play anywhere near what out expectations were," Carlyle said, "but the old adage of hockey is, you don't critique a win and good teams find ways to win hockey games. We didn't play very good. We didn't really have our work boots on and got out-competed early in the game, but our goaltender stole us a hockey game."
Toronto's best chance to score in the first 45 minutes came five minutes into the third, when New Jersey defenseman Henrik Tallinder casually carried the puck in front of his team's net and momentarily lost control of it, nearly causing it to trickle past Brodeur.
Brodeur had to make a legitimate save -- his toughest of the game to that point -- a few minutes later, when the Maple Leafs finally penetrated the Devils' zone with some speed. Kessel dropped a pass to linemate James van Riemsdyk, who snapped a shot that Brodeur knocked down with his trapper.
Reimer produced his biggest save of the night to that point blocking a shot on Henrique, who was fortunate enough to have the puck come back to him. While Reimer was down, he somehow managed to get the rebound, too.
With New Jersey's Marek Zidlicky off for holding, Kessel finally figured out Brodeur with a snap shot from the top of the circle with 6:32 left in regulation, his 16th goal of the season and sixth in the past four games.