NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 at Prudential Center on Thursday.
The Devils (44-28-9) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012, when they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. Their opponent in the Eastern Conference First Round is to be determined.
"It was a really good feeling to hear that buzzer go, see the playoff logo on the Jumbotron and hear that ovation," said New Jersey left wing Taylor Hall, who is going to the playoffs for the first time in eight NHL seasons. "That's what it's all about. I'm excited for what we can do."
[WATCH: All Maple Leafs vs. Devils highlights]
The Devils are in position to clinch the first wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They can finish as high as second in the Metropolitan Division or as low as the second wild-card spot.
Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Devils clinch playoff berth
"We're just happy to punch the ticket," said New Jersey goalie Keith Kinkaid, who made 31 saves, including 12 in the third period.
The Devils fell behind 1-0 on William Nylander's power-play goal at 6:56 of the first period, but Pavel Zacha and Miles Wood scored in the second period. Zacha tied it 1-1 at 7:55 remaining on a give-and-go with Patrick Maroon, and Wood made it 2-1 with 2:58 left when Maroon skated across the back of the net and found him in front with a backhand.
Maroon had the lone assist on both goals.
Frederik Andersen made 37 saves for the Maple Leafs (48-26-7), who had already clinched a playoff berth and are locked into third place in the Atlantic Division, meaning they will play either the Boston Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It'd be nice not to have them celebrate tonight and get in another way," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "Obviously, we didn't have that going inside our room. We didn't have it going at the start of the game and it looked like it. In the end, we made some mistakes. It is what it is. Get ready for the next game and then get ready for what we've earned."
Video: TOR@NJD: Kinkaid gloves away Brown's wrister in close
The Devils weren't picked by many people to make the playoffs after finishing last in the Metropolitan Division and 27th in the League with 70 points last season. However, they have been in a playoff spot every day this season.
"There's no better feeling than to prove people wrong," Hall said. "As a group we've had a lot of guys in here that have had to do that and as a team we've done it."
The Devils, though, had to overcome a tough stretch to stay above the playoff line. They went 10-14-0 from Jan. 20-March 8, dropping from second in the division into the first wild-card position.
They are 10-2-1 since, including 7-0-1 in eight games since March 23, all started by Kinkaid.
"It's a credit to a lot of guys in here for just coming up when the pressure is on," Hall said. "That's what I'm proud of, how we've played through the stretch here."
The Devils endured some tense moments late in the third period. Kinkaid made eight saves in the final 7:23, starting with a right-pad save on Auston Matthews from the slot.
"Stressful," Kinkaid said, laughing. "No, it was exciting. The fans were into it. That's an unreal atmosphere. You hear how loud they were. Everyone is battling. Everyone is backchecking. Everyone is doing all the little things and we're a really hard team to play against when we do that."
Goal of the game
Wood's goal at 17:02 of the second period.
Video: TOR@NJD: Wood jams home Maroon's backhand dish
Save of the game
Kinkaid's save on Matthews at 12:37 of the third period.
Video: TOR@NJD: Kinkaid stones Matthews, controls scramble
Highlight of the game
Zacha's goal at 7:55 of the second period.
Video: TOR@NJD: Zacha buries Maroon's dish on the rush
They said it
"That was kind of us last year, fighting for a spot to get in. They played hard. They played well. They didn't give us too much. I thought we could have been better in the first couple of periods. We gave it a push there but it wasn't enough." - Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner
"We did it. We didn't rely on anyone. It's a sense of accomplishment. The battling for playoff positioning and trying to clinch, it's all part of the fun of it. Emotions rise, tensions rise, you work hard and you get rewarded. We did it together." -- Devils forward Brian Boyle
Need to know
Hall's nine-game point streak and four-game goal streak ended. … Nylander's goal gave him 60 points. He joins Matthews and Mitchell Marner as the only players in Toronto history to have at least that many in each of their first two NHL seasons. He also is the sixth Maple Leafs player to reach 20 goals this season, their most since 1998-99.
Maple Leafs: Host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVAS, NHL.TV)
Devils: At the Washington Capitals on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, NBCSWA, MSG+, NHL.TV)
Video: Devils clinch playoff berth with win against Leafs