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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Devils - 03/23/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils Thursday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

Leivo jams in rebound for PPG

NJD@TOR: Leivo scores, Nylander sets club record

Josh Leivo jams home the loose puck on a power play as William Nylander records an assist for a 10-game point streak, a club rookie record

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1. Leafs rebound from early deficit, take lead before first intermission thanks to goals from Leivo, Nylander. The Leafs were playing the second half of a back-to-back, road-and-home series that saw them beat the Blue Jackets 5-2 in Columbus Wednesday - and while the Devils jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the 2:59 mark of Thursday's game on a goal from defenceman John Moore, Toronto roared back before the first period was finished, with winger Josh Leivo scoring the tying goal at 5:46, and winger William Nylander putting the Buds ahead with 1:43 left in the frame.

Leivo's goal - a power play marker - was his second of the year in his 13th NHL game this season, while Nylander's goal was his second point of the night after he registered the secondary assist on Toronto's first goal. Nylander now has 21 goals and 56 points in 72 games, and his offensive production Thursday gave him at least a point in 10 consecutive games, which set a new franchise record for Leafs rookies. The 20-year-old has been on a tear, but he's endeared himself to head coach Mike Babcock as much for growing his all-around game as he has for his puck prowess.  

Video: NJD@TOR: van Riemsdyk goes to net, taps in rebound

2. Toronto adds to lead on van Riemsdyk's goal; Marner ties longstanding Leafs record with assist on the play. Toronto started the second period strongly and the Devils' defence was lax - and that combination led to the Leafs extending their lead on winger James van Riemsdyk's 23rd goal of the season at the 2:04 mark. 

The goal was notable for two reasons, both of which had to do with the players who earned assists on the play: winger Mitch Marner recorded his 40th assist of the season, tying Leafs legend Gus Bodnar's 73-year-old team record in that department; and centre Tyler Bozak's helper gave him his 50th point of the year, setting a new personal best in his eighth NHL season. The most important part of the game to all Leafs players was establishing a solid lead, but carving out new territory on the individual front is a feather in their caps.

Video: NJD@TOR: Nylander stickhandles and snipes top shelf

3. Matthews posts pair of helpers, becomes first Leaf to hit 60-point plateau this year. On a night when his teammates were breaking records and setting new career highs, centre Auston Matthews was reaching some new levels of his own: the 19-year-old rookie chipped in a pair of primary assists on Leivo's and Nylander's goals to give him 27 helpers on the season and 60 points in 73 games.

Matthews became the first Leafs player to hit the 60-point plateau this year, and with two goals and three points in his past three games, he's clearly hitting his stride at the right time of the season.

4. Devils cut Buds' lead at end of 5-on-3 man advantage, but Brown adds empty-netter to seal another big win for the Leafs. The Buds gave the Devils one power play in the first period, but as the game progressed - and as both sides got increasingly more physical with one another - the Leafs found themselves in penalty trouble early in the third: after blueliner Morgan Rielly was called for holding at 6:49, D-man Matt Hunwick was penalized for interference 25 seconds later to give New Jersey a 5-on-3 man advantage. The Leafs successfully killed off Rielly's penalty, but with 10 seconds left on Hunwick's goal, Moore scored his second of the night to cut Toronto's lead to one.

However, after the Devils pulled goalie Keith Kinkaid for the extra man, the Leafs gained possession at New Jersey's blueline, and winger Connor Brown fired the puck into the empty net for Toronto's fourth and final goal of the evening. The Air Canada Centre crowd was again elated to see their team emerge with a victory, and the Leafs looked as confident and capable in both their offensive and defensive games as they have all season.
 
5. Zaitsev puts in quiet, but effective game on back end for Buds. With blueliner Roman Polak out of the lineup due to a two-game suspension, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock had to alter his defence corps, and inserted Alexey Marchenko into the lineup. But it was the play of another defender - first-year NHLer Nikita Zaitsev - that stood out: Zaitsev logged a team-best 23:55 of ice time, and registered an assist to give him a goal and four points in his past three games.

However, Zaitsev's contributions continued in all areas: he played 1:05 of power play time and a team-high 4:48 of penalty kill time, demonstrating why Babcock has such confidence in his skills. The 25-year-old's poise and patience has been a welcome addition to the lineup, and Babcock's reliance on him is paying off. 

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