Toronto head coach Mike Babcock sees something special in rookie goaltender Garret Sparks
Sparks made 25 saves and Nazem Kadri scored the shootout winner as the Maple Leafs downed the visiting New Jersey Devils 3-2 on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old Sparks earned his third victory in four starts since being summoned from the AHL Marlies to fill in for an injured James Reimer and struggling Jonathan Bernier. His goals-against average is now down to 2.20 while his save percentage is .921.
"He's a kid in our organization, you never really know about until you bring him (up), he's got a certain swagger and confidence about him,'' said Babcock. ``Looks to me he has a chance to be a real goalie.
"Here's a kid who's come a long way, has a long way to (still) go, but obviously he must have a skill set or this wouldn't be happening.''
For the second straight outing Sparks surrendered the first goal of the game within two minutes of the opening faceoff without letting it faze him.
It could have been a let down for Toronto (10-13-5), but Sparks bounced back like a veteran and it paid off as P.A. Parenteau responded with the tying goal before first intermission.
"Second game in a row I can't make the first save, put us in a hole early, but this team battled back and competed for a hard 60 minutes and ultimately we got what I think we deserved,'' said Sparks.
Roman Polak took a cross-checking penalty 39 seconds into the game that led to the opening goal from Lee Stempniak, who tipped a John Moore point shot past Sparks to make it 1-0 just 1:24 into the contest.
"If I take another foot out of the net it hits me in the shoulder, no big deal,'' said Sparks. "(It's) a learning curve, just move forward.''
Toronto had 10 of the next 11 shots on net after Stempniak scored and wound up on the board with a fluke goal from Parenteau.
Parenteau one-hopped a harmless wrister from just outside the blue line that fooled Corey Schneider over the glove hand to tie the game 1-1 at 14:24.
"I've never seen it bounce like that before. It sucks to give up, but they didn't really do anything to earn it,'' said Schneider, who finished with 36 saves. ``If that play happens again, I'm doing the exact same thing. But that's never happened before in the hundreds of dump-ins I've ever seen.''
Schneider was forced to bail his team out late in the first as Toronto kept the pressure on in New Jersey's zone. The Leafs outshot the Devils 17-7 after 20 minutes and 25-17 heading into the third.
Toronto took a 2-1 lead at 2:12 of the second when James van Riemdyk tipped a Dion Phaneuf blast through Schneider's legs from the top of the crease while on the power play.
With Byron Froese serving a holding-the-stick penalty, Kyle Palmieri responded midway through the second with a one-timer from the top of the face-off circle to make it 2-2.
Neither netminder was busy to start a slower-paced third. New Jersey (14-10-4) had just three shots on Sparks midway through the period while the Leafs could only come up with one on Schneider.
"The third period was especially a clog, nothing really happened,'' said Babcock.
After the Leafs held much of the pressure in a scoreless overtime, Sparks turned away four of the five shooters in the shootout before Kadri scored the eventual winner with a backhand-to-forehand deke.
"I felt like (Schneider) was out a little far so I thought I'd come in, slow it down, make a couple moves and luckily it worked.''
Toronto has the next seven days off and Babcock suggested that both Reimer and Bernier could be back with the club before its next game on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. If that happens, Sparks will head back down to the Marlies.
"I knew it may very well be my last game for a little bit, but I definitely didn't want to leave here on a bad note so I'm very happy with how it went,'' said Sparks.
Notes: This was Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello's first game against the Devils, the club he spent the previous 28 seasons in charge of before joining Toronto this past summer... Phaneuf was playing in his 400th game with the Leafs... Adam Henrique collided with Sparks in the second period. He left with an undisclosed injury and did not return.