EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't beat the New Jersey Devils just for the much-needed two points in the playoff hunt. They also did it for defenceman Tomas Kaberle.
Angered by a late hit that sent their teammate off the ice on the stretcher in the second period, the Maple Leafs rallied from a two-goal third-period deficit and then got shootout goals from Yanic Perreault, Alexander Steen and Jeff O'Neill in posting a 4-3 win that denied Martin Brodeur his 40th win on Friday night.
While the win moved the Maple Leafs within two points of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the players were more concerned about Kaberle, the eight-year veteran who ended up at Hackensack University Medical Center after being blind-sided by Devils tough guy Cam Janssen early in the second period on an apparent late hit.
Referees Kelly Sutherland and Brad Watson didn't call a penalty, and they refused to be interviewed after the game.
"Absolutely no place for it in this game, and that's it," Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said of the play.
Andrew Raycroft, who preserved the win and helped the Maple Leafs snap a two-game losing streak by stopping Sergei Brylin on the Devils' fifth shootout attempt, said the hit came so late that he was no longer looking at his defenceman.
"If I don't see it and it's right in my zone, it's pretty late," Raycroft said. "You can't have the best players on the ice and someone taking liberties like that. It's unacceptable. Hopefully, they (the NHL) see the tape and do something. It's not the hit, it's the fact it's 10 seconds late."
Janssen felt he did nothing wrong.
"I was just finishing my check," Janssen said. "You hate to see that. It's a weird feeling. You never want to see that, but I've got to do my job. I've got to take the body and I did."
A Maple Leafs official said Kaberle was alert in the locker room and will be held at the hospital for observation.
"I know it was a late hit and if real late, should have been a penalty," Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin said. "It's nice to get the win for Tomas after what he went through."
Carlo Colaiacovo, Nikolai Antropov and Matt Stajan scored in a span of 2:51 midway through the third period for Toronto.
Jamie Langenbrunner, Jay Pandolfo and Brylin scored for the Devils, with Brylin tying the game at three on a power play with 1:09 left in regulation.
Zach Parise gave the Devils a 1-0 lead in the shootout, making a triple deke on their first attempt.
Perreault, reacquired from Phoenix earlier in the week, tied the shootout on the Leafs' third attempt.
Raycroft stopped John Madden on the Devils' third try. After Steen and Langenbrunner traded goals, O'Neill ripped the winner past Brodeur and Raycroft made it stand.
What most people will remember from the game is Janssen's hit on Kaberle. The defenceman made an uncontested pass in his own zone and was skating backward toward the Devils' bench when Janssen checked him to the head about three seconds later. Kaberle fell and appeared to hit his head on the side boards.
Kaberle was on the ice for several minutes and eventually was wheeled off after a neck brace was applied.
"If anyone knows the way he plays, he hits late and hard," said Maple Leafs defenceman Wade Belak, who did not dress for the game. "So now one of our best players is going to be out."
Down 2-0 with less than 12 minutes to play, Colaiacovo got the Maple Leafs going, scoring in close after working a great give-and-go with Steen at the Devils blue line at 8:35.
Antropov tied the game a little more than two minutes later, getting credit for tipping an Ian White shot past Brodeur with Toronto on a power play.
Stajan finished the flurry by being credited for a goal that New Jersey defenceman Paul Martin appeared to tip. Defenceman Hal Gill took the shot.
Brylin tied it after intercepting a clearing pass. His initial shot was blocked but he got the rebound and put it into an open net past Raycroft.
Langenbrunner had given New Jersey a 1-0 lead on a power play early in the second period. It was set up when Bates Battaglia was called for roughing late in the first period after Sundin was slammed into the boards after a shot.
Pandolfo gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead late in the second period, deflecting a shot by Colin White past Raycroft. ????????????
Notes: Belak was a healthy scratch for the first time since Dec. 2. ... Raycroft started his 26th straight game for Toronto. The loss was only the Devils second in their past seven games.