WITH TWO GOALS FROM TAVARES, LEAFS FINISH FIRST PERIOD IN CONTROL WITH 3-0 LEAD
The Maple Leafs were in New Jersey looking for a victory Thursday, and trying to turn around a trend that's seen them lose three of their past four games. And in the opening period, the Buds were focused and determined - outshooting the Devils 15-8 - and scored the only three goals of the frame.
The first goal came off the stick of defenceman Ron Hainsey, whose slap shot from the point beat Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid at 4:30 of the first:
Video: TOR@NJD: Hainsey nets opener with heavy slap shot
The primary assist on Hainsey's goal - his fourth of the season - went to winger Zach Hyman, who was back in Toronto's lineup after missing eight games with an ankle injury. Hyman's influence on the game spreads over a number of areas, but his willingness to battle in corners and in front of nets is highly appreciated by his coaches and teammates. But those coaches and teammates also appreciate goals, and the Leafs went ahead 2-0 in the first when centre John Tavares took control of a rebound in front of Kinkaid's net, and backhanded the puck into an open net for his 28th goal of the season - and the 300th regular-season goal of his NHL career:
Video: TOR@NJD: Tavares buries rebound for 300th goal
Tavares has been known to score goals in bunches, and that's what happened Thursday: after scoring his first goal of the night at 7:21 of the first, Tavares scored his second goal with seven seconds left before the first intermission when he finished off a terrific passing sequence that also featured D-man Morgan Rielly and winger Mitch Marner:
Video: TOR@NJD: Tavares hammers home Rielly's feed
The three goals gave Toronto all kinds of confidence heading into the second frame, and as it turned out, they needed all three of those goals to pull out the win in this game.
DEVILS CUT LEAFS' LEAD TO ONE GOAL AFTER STRIKING TWICE IN SECOND FRAME
It was a different Devils team that came out in the second period: New Jersey outshot Toronto 18-13 in the period, and the Devils cut the Buds' lead to 3-2 with two goals in 26 seconds late in the second. It was a cup of cold water to the collective face of the Leafs, who - thanks in no small part to the play of goalie Michael Hutchinson, who stopped 16 of 18 Devils shots in the period, and 27 of 29 shots on the night - turned up their intensity in the remainder of the second and the entirety of the third.
LEAFS CLAMP DOWN IN THIRD, ADD INSURANCE GOAL BY MARNER TO LOCK UP WIN
In the third frame, the Leafs looked like they did in the first, limiting the Devils to just three shots in the frame, while generating another 15 shots to finish the night with 43 shots on Kinkaid. And though it was tight and tense for most of the third, Toronto spent much of its time in New Jersey's zone - and with their net empty late in regulation time in favour of the extra attacker, Marner fired the puck into the Devils' net for his 16th goal of the season and a 4-2 Leafs lead at the 19:38 mark:
Video: TOR@NJD: Marner scores on the empty net
Tavares recorded the only assist on Marner's goal, giving Tavares two goals and three points on the night. But this was a solid, all-around win that required contributions from throughout the lineup. The Buds' next game comes Saturday when the Boston Bruins come to Toronto, and Bruins games always prove competitive and tough for the Leafs. This win over the Devils will give them the confidence they likely will need to get past the B's.