By DAVID SHOALTS
Friday, November 17, 2017
TORONTO -- It took some time on the tightrope, but the Toronto Maple Leafs gained their revenge on the New Jersey Devils.
The Leafs survived a penalty in overtime and a heart-stopping final minute when both teams traded chances before William Nylander scored with 2.2 seconds left to give them a 1-0 win.
It was a spectacular finish and raised the Leafs' winning streak to five games, the past four without Auston Matthews. He practised with the Leafs on Wednesday but was held out of the Devils game.
The main reason the Leafs were much better this time is that one Leaf in particular was far better than last time. Goaltender Frederik Andersen took the win and the shutout by stopping 42 shots in a duel with Devils counterpart Cory Schneider, who faced 25 shots.
While the Maple Leafs did play better Thursday night than they did in their previous meeting with the Devils, a 6-3 loss at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 11, it was in a relative sense. The Leafs fore-checked and skated hard in the first period only to be muzzled in the second, and were held to four shots and likewise in the third when they were outshot 14-7.
However, since the score remained 0-0 for three periods, it was a step up for the Leafs, albeit not a step up from their recent play, in which they took a four-game winning streak into the game. Then again, these are not last season's 30th-place Devils but a rebuilding, quick young team backed by a topflight veteran goaltender that brought an 11-4-2 record to the game, good enough for first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Both Andersen and Schneider were the story over the first two periods as evidenced by the score.
Schneider pulled three pucks away from the goal line in the first period, when he faced 12 shots, while Andersen was especially sharp in the second when his teammates were on their heels. Andersen stopped 20 shots in the first 40 minutes, 10 in each period.
"They're a good team," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said of the Devils. "They skate, they've got four good lines, six good D [defencemen], a real good goaltender, they skate fast, they get on the forecheck, they work hard, they compete hard.
"I like their team, they're fun to watch. They never give up."
While Schneider made the more spectacular saves - his backward dive in the first period to smother a puck with his glove that was just about to cross the blueline was the best one - Andersen was steady but equally effective. A few hours before the game, Andersen said his recent improvement was spurred by an uptick in his confidence, which came from knowing Babcock was not about to give him the hook when he was struggling.
"I think just being out there, being able to compete every night has allowed me to get a good feeling and kind of shake it off, the start [to the season]," said Andersen, who went into the game with more than 960 minutes played, the most among NHL goaltenders. "The more you're out there, the better you end up feeling.
"I think the confidence, the belief of the coaching staff and the organization has been good for me."
Andersen had to be sharp early when the Leafs gave up a partial breakaway to Miles Wood, who scored two goals in that Devils win in October. He was turned aside by Andersen, although the shot caught part of the post.
The Leafs faded after a strong start to the game but came on in the last half of the first period.
Schneider made a great arm save on James van Riemsdyk during a Leafs power play and then closed the period with another goal-line save, that back-dive with the glove 39 seconds left that stole a goal from Leafs winger Zach Hyman.
The Devils kept the pressure on Andersen and the Leafs in the third period. They held a 14-7 edge in shots but could not get anything behind Andersen and the game went to overtime.
There was one change in the Devils' lineup from the last game. Former Leaf centre Brian Boyle made his first visit to Toronto since signing with the Devils last summer.
Boyle missed the October game because he was dealing with chronic myeloid leukemia, a form of bonemarrow cancer.
Boyle, 32, was diagnosed with the disease in late September during training camp and missed the Devils' first 10 games of the season while he underwent treatment. It is the same form of cancer that struck Jason Blake in 2007 when he was in training camp with the Maple Leafs.
However, the cancer is treatable with medication and Blake went on to play four more seasons in the NHL after his diagnosis.
Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen makes a save on New Jersey Devils centre Adam Henrique as Maple Leafs centre Patrick Marleau defends during the first period on Thursday.
FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS