TORONTO – Pads still strapped on his legs, Jonas Gustavsson was a lonely figure in the Maple Leafs’ dressing room Tuesday night.
The Toronto goalie misplayed a shot by New Jersey defenceman Mark Fayne in overtime that was going wide but instead wound up in the Leafs’ net as the Devils escaped with a 4-3 victory.
“It’s not about going back to practice tomorrow and change my strategy,” Gustavsson said. “It’s about maybe paying attention—some extra focus in those situations.”
Petr Sykora had a goal and an assist for New Jersey (35-20-4), while David Clarkson and former Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored. Martin Brodeur made 29 saves as the Devils won their fourth in a row.
Phil Kessel’s 31st goal of the season forced overtime for Toronto (29-24-7) with 44 seconds left in the third period.
After Brodeur stopped Tyler Bozak’s rush up the left side Kessel banged in the rebound to send the Air Canada Centre crowd into a frenzy.
Fayne’s shot from the point at 1:18 of the extra period went off the inside of Gustavsson’s arm and caromed over the goal-line.
“Right now we’re just trying to get our game together,” Brodeur said. “Even though we’re winning I know we have a lot of room for improvement.”
Tim Connolly scored in the first period for the Leafs, while Clarke MacArthur had a goal in the second.
Gustavsson, who’s been sharing goaltending duties with James Reimer as the Leafs have looked for a bona fide No. 1, was shaky early as the Leafs fell behind 2-0 in the first period. He rebounded to finish with 28 saves before the disastrous finish.
“As a group we’ve got to take it as a real big positive to get that point,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “It’s not the way we wanted it to end but to get that point at that point of the game, it’s huge.
“It’s a big goal by (Kessel) for our team and that’s the way we’re going to take it. We’re going to take the point and move forward.”
The Devils got on the board long after Phaneuf got out of the penalty box after a tripping penalty midway through the first period.
Standing behind the net, Adam Henrique found Sykora with a backhand pass. Some poor checking by the Leafs gave Sykora the time to get two cracks at it.
Gustavsson couldn’t hold onto the initial shot and Sykora rounded the helpless goaltender before backhanding in his 14th of the season at 9:44.
The Devils doubled their advantage on a shot that, like the winner, shouldn’t have gone in. Clarkson fended off Matthew Lombardi on the right side as he crossed into the Leafs zone before putting a low shot past Gustavsson at 14:16.
“The first goal he had no chance on,” Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said of his goaltender. “The second one—it’s a 1-on-2 and you can see the shot from a bad angle that finds its way in. We’ve just got to do, I guess, a better job of supporting our goaltender.”
Just 32 seconds after New Jersey’s second goal, the Leafs got one back. Standing in front of the Devils net, Connolly reached out with his stick to deflect a Cody Franson shot from the point past Brodeur and make it 2-1.
Clarkson took exception to a Phaneuf hit on Devils captain Zach Parise, and the two fought at the 16:36 mark of the first period.
Some good forechecking helped get the Leafs back level with just over five minutes remaining in the second.
Mikhail Grabovski stopped an attempted Devils clearance at the blue-line. He then found Nikolai Kulemin, who passed to MacArthur in front to put away his 18th of the season.
Ponikarovsky gave the Devils a 3-2 lead with under two minutes remaining in the second. The former Leaf forward scored on a shot that went through Gustavsson’s legs.
Gustavsson made a big save early in the third off Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuck, who got clear after Phaneuf fell at the Leafs blue-line.