NEWARK, N.J. – Jonas Gustavsson and the Toronto Maple Leafs gave the few fans in New Jersey who braved a blizzard very little to cheer about at the Prudential Center.
Gustavsson stopped 29 shots, and Colby Armstrong scored two goals as the Maple Leafs ended a three-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night.
The Devils (9-24-2), who have the fewest points in the NHL, have lost five straight and 10 of 11 this month. New Jersey is 0-2 since Jacques Lemaire replaced John MacLean and began his third stint as Devils coach.
The New York area was hit by a heavy snowstorm that held the announced crowd to 5,329. The actual turnout appeared in the range of 2,500 to 3,000, some of whom left early following the announcement that local bus service was about to be suspended because of the storm.
“I don’t know how many fans come to their games anyway,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “It doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t be hearing that stuff anyway. These games are tough for the road, to have to travel early in the morning. Our guys were professional and we were ready.”
With the building largely empty, the Devils extended an invitation midway through the second period for fans in the upper levels to move to the lower bowl.
Those who came down for a closer view saw the Devils extend their losing streak.
John Mitchell and Nikolai Kulemin also scored for the Maple Leafs, who are 10 points ahead of the last-place Devils. The quiet building and a lack of atmosphere might have been just what Toronto needed to pick up a road win.
“There weren’t many people,” Gustavsson said. “You couldn’t expect people to get here with the storm. It’s tough to find a spark out there anyway.”
The Maple Leafs have an extra night to celebrate in New Jersey. Plans to fly home after the game were wiped out by the storm.
New Jersey gift-wrapped the opening goal by Armstrong at 13:50 of the first. Devils forward Brian Rolston was checked by Kris Versteeg as he tried to make a clearing pass from his end. The puck popped right to Armstrong, alone in the slot, and he flipped a shot past Martin Brodeur’s glove.
“I was trying to hit our defenceman in front,” Rolston said. “It’s a play that we make all the time. I take responsibility for that. It seems like one misstep and we go right down hill.”
Mitchell put Toronto up 2-0 at 8:45 of the second period with Versteeg again playing a role. Versteeg carried the puck into the Devils zone, eluding several checkers as he went hard to the net to hammer a shot that Brodeur stopped. Mitchell was at the doorstep to clean up the rebound for his second goal in two games.
The Devils then generated some of their best pressure, however, they couldn’t dent Gustavsson. The potential rally fizzled as Kulemin scored from the left circle at 17:23.
Johan Hedberg replaced Brodeur to start the third period after he allowed three goals on 14 shots.
“It was the coach’s decision,” Brodeur said. “It’s never fun to get pulled.”
Gustavsson lost the bid for his second career shutout when Rod Pelley scored on the power play with 7:33 remaining.
Armstrong closed out the scoring with his second goal at 16:47.
NOTES: Gustavsson made a fourth straight start in place of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who is out because of a groin injury. … RW Mattias Tedenby returned for the Devils lineup after missing one game with food poisoning. … Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils disappointing US$100-million forward, vented some of his frustration in a second-period fight with Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.