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Leafs top Devils 6-5 in shootout

by John Kreiser
It would have been hard to blame New Jersey fans for feeling the Devils' game against the Toronto Maple Leafs was finally in the bag when the horn sounded at the end of overtime with the score tied at 5-5. After all, the Devils had Martin Brodeur, the winningest shootout goaltender in NHL history. Toronto had Vesa Toskala, who had stopped less than half of the shootout attempts he'd faced while going 2-9 in the penalty-shot competition.

Through two rounds, they had to be feeling even better. Brodeur stopped Nikolai Kulemin and Matt Stajan; Toskala stopped Zach Parise but was beaten cleanly by Patrik Elias.

But Tomas Kaberle scored to get the Leafs even, and after Toskala thwarted Brian Gionta, Niklas Hagman beat Brodeur on a slick backhand move, getting in close and sliding the puck through the goaltender's pads before dousing him with snow. Toskala then stopped Jamie Langenbrunner's wrist shot, giving Toronto a shocking 6-5 victory.

It was a move Hagman said he had worked on in practice.

"I decided I was going to try something else and I felt pretty confident with it," Hagman said, "I didn't want to put snow in his face. That's why I felt a little bad. I didn't want to celebrate too much. I didn't want to be cocky."

For Toskala, who made 26 saves, it was his first win in four decisions against the Devils — and just his third in 12 career shootouts. He had been 0-2 this season and was lifted from last week's game against Anaheim before the shootout began by coach Ron Wilson.

This time, he nearly got the hook in regulation.

"To be honest, I had the hook ready a few times," Wilson said. "In the end, it worked out."

It was the Devils' third consecutive loss, during which they've allowed 15 goals — a very un-Devil-like performance, shootout or no shootout.

"It should never have gotten to that point," Elias said. "When you score five goals, you should win the game."

More perturbing to coach Brent Sutter was the fact that his team gave up so many scoring chances.

"It was a classic case of one team worked and the other one didn't work," he said. "We were outworked tonight. Our goaltender was the best player on the ice.

"Toronto flat-out outworked us tonight. We were very fortunate to get a point. That's two of the last three games we weren't very good in. A lot of our players have to play a lot better. It was like our first game of the season and we hadn't had training camp. We weren't sharp at all."

The Leafs came to the Prudential Center after a 3-2 home loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, and Wilson was very pleased at the way his team carried the play for most of the night.

"We had 48 shots on goal," Wilson said. "We came in as a tired team and I thought did an unbelievable job all night long. We just had some bad bounces going against us in our end. Back-to-back games — to come in and get 48 shots on the Devils is a pretty good accomplishment."

The Devils appeared to be on the way to an easy win after getting early goals from David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus scored in the first 7:34 for a 2-0 lead after one period.

Then the wheels fell off.

Matt Stajan got the Leafs on the board at 4:13 of the second period, then tied it with a power-play goal at 5:31, both on deflections. Alex Steen put Toronto ahead two minutes later with another power-play goal, also on a deflection.

Then it was the Devils' turn. Langenbrunner tied it at 9:14 on another deflection and low-scoring defenseman Colin White's slap shot from the right point caught the far corner at 13:42, putting New Jersey back in front.


But though the Leafs played last night, they had more jump than the Devils in the third period. Toronto pressured New Jersey for a full shift before Jamal Mayers lifted a rebound over Brodeur at 9:15, and Alex Ponikarovsky's wrist shot slid through Brodeur's pads at 10:25 for Toronto's third power-play goal in four tries and a 5-4 lead.

Parise tied it 52 seconds later, roofing a rebound to extend his goal-scoring streak to five games.

After being outshot 48-25 in regulation, the Devils had a power play and all six shots in the five-minute overtime but couldn't beat Toskala.

"He made some huge saves, especially the 4-on-3 penalty kill in the overtime. That seemed to give him some confidence," Wilson said.

The Devils are off until hosting Atlanta on Saturday, and Brodeur said they have work to do in the meantime. 

"It's not what we're used to here," he said of the unaccustomed workload and the team's recent defensive struggles. "We got a point out of it, but it was disappointing. We'll work on what we need to work on. We've given up a lot of goals in the last three games. We've got to try to tighten up and pay special attention to defense."

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