In a sign that the season is truly winding down and, thus, points will be at a premium for teams with playoff aspirations, the Devils paid their final visit to Canada of the 2015-16 season. They were in Toronto to take on a Maple Leafs team that is mostly out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, but would like to get another victory over New Jersey for their new boss, Lou Lamoriello.
The Devils were still without Michael Cammalleri, but defenseman John Moore did make his return to the lineup. Healthy scratches for New Jersey were Stefan Matteau, Tuomo Ruutu and Damon Severson.
One small area of concern was Cory Schneider’s health. The All-Star was rumored to have had suffered an undisclosed minor injury (though he is scheduled to start on Saturday afternoon against Washington). Coach John Hynes said that “he has no level of concern about Schneider’s injury” and Cory himself said that he was just a little sore from all of the hockey he has been playing. So it seems like normal wear and tear and nothing more. Hopefully, Cory can stay healthy because an injury to him could be catastrophic for this team.
With all of that, he would get the night off in Toronto, giving Keith Kinkaid his tenth start of the season. The backup had a good game, making 37 saves on 39 Maple Leaf shots. He played really well at times, making the big save when he had to. He will be getting some chances down the stretch as coach Hynes has mentioned that the team has “a lot of back-to-backs” and some tough opponents coming up. Hopefully, this gives him a chance to get some time in and be more comfortable coming off the bench.
Facing him was Toronto’s James Reimer. He made 32 saves on 34 shots faced and was perfect in the shootout, blanking the Devils there in the Leafs’ victory.
The Devils would take the lead early when the Maple Leafs’ Matt Hunwick took a delay of game penalty at 4:07. This set up a Devils power play, on which Jacob Josefson would convert at just nine seconds into. Travis Zajac won the faceoff in the Leafs’ zone, sending it back to David Schlemko at the point. He gave the puck to Josefson at the near halfwall. Josefson fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Reimer clean. Since coming back from injury, Josefson has been a boon to the Devils’ power play and helped to prove that here. The Devils had a 1-0 lead.
But the Devils would not get out of the period with the lead. Shawn Matthias scored at 8:34 off a redirect of a Tyler Bozak shot. Former Islander PA Parenteau had the secondary assist. The game was tied at one heading into the second.
There was no scoring in the second, but that does not mean there were not plenty of chances. Early in the period, Adam Henrique was called for hooking against Nazem Kadri. On the Leafs’ power play, the Devils developed a 2-on-1 with Stephen Gionta and Lee Stempniak. Gionta had seemingly scored, but the play was whistled dead when the linesman called offside. Gionta had gone in over the blue line just a step ahead of Stempniak and a Devils near-lead was taken away.
The third period saw an exciting finish. New Jersey retook the lead at 6:27 of the period when Joseph Blandisi picked up the puck in the corner, skated it behind the Leafs net, and gave it to Eric Gelinas at the far point. He slid it over to David Schlemko who one-timed it behind Reimer. Toronto coach Mike Babcock used his coach’s challenge here, asserting goalie interference on Reimer by Lee Stempniak. The replay showed that, while this was a much closer call than the challenge in the Rangers game, it still was pretty cut-and-dry. MSG+ analyst Ken Daneyko said that while Reimer was bumped by Stempniak, the contact came outside of the goal crease and Reimer still had time to get reset to see the shot. The goal counted and Toronto forfeited their timeout for later in the game. It was Schlemko’s second point of the game and the Devils led 2-1.
Two points in the game would move New Jersey past the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division standings, but it was not to be.
First, Babcock pulled Reimer with about 2:30 left in the third. Then, Bozak would beat Kinkaid with a snap shot off assists to Peter Holland and Dion Phaneuf. With just over two minutes left, the game was tied. It would stay that way, forcing another overtime chance for the Devils. The Devils did come away with a point, but would need a victory in the extra session or a shootout to move up in the standings.
Overtime was wild, simply put. The moment that best stands out was Blandisi (playing his first game in his hometown) being hit with a stretch pass that would have given him a breakaway and likely put the game winner on his stick. But he lost an edge just inside the Maple Leafs’ blue line and fell, nullifying the breakaway. Neither team would find the back of the net and it was on to a shootout for the second time in two meetings between these teams.
First up for Toronto was Holland and he missed. Reid Boucher missed for the Devils and it was on to the second round. PA Parenteau would score the only goal of the shootout, beating Kinkaid over the glove and Jacob Josefson was up. Although he usually seems automatic in these things, he missed and Kinkaid would have to stop Bozak to keep New Jersey alive. He did and it was up to Stempniak to tie things up for the Devils. His shot was saved by Reimer and the Devils dropped the game to Toronto.
The Devils do not have long to dwell on this loss. Next up, a 1 PM matinee Saturday in Newark against the high-powered Washington Capitals is in the cards. Alex Ovechkin will be back in the lineup for the Caps and Cory Schneider will be back between the pipes for the Devils. An upset win would go a long way in helping the Devils, plus Marty Brodeur will be in attendance to drop the puck in the ceremonial faceoff prior to the game. With an all-time legend in attendance, we will see what the Devils can do on Saturday.