NEWARK, N.J. – Joffrey Lupul knew that New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur was returning from an injury, so the Maple Leafs right wing decided to test the 10-time all-star as often as possible.
“We talked about it before the game,” Lupul said. “We knew that he was coming off missing three weeks and that he might be off a little bit. We knew we should take our chances.”
Lupul led the charge against a rusty Brodeur, scoring three goals in a wild second period for his first hat trick in almost four years, to lead Toronto past the Devils 5-3 on Wednesday night.
Lupul connected three times in a span of 6:42 against Brodeur, back on the ice after missing six games with a bruised right shoulder. Joey Crabb and Mihkail Grabovski also had goals for the Maple Leafs.
“It was good to get it against him, because he always had my number when I was with Philly,” Lupul said. “I was fortunate to get some chances in the second period. All night, we were just trying to get as many pucks to the net.”
The last time Lupul scored three goals in a game was Dec. 12, 2007, when he had six points for the Philadelphia Flyers against Pittsburgh. He scored four goals in a Western Conference playoff game for Anaheim on May 10, 2006.
Patrik Elias, Darius Zubrus and David Clarkson scored for the Devils, who have lost five of six.
Phil Kessel padded his NHL scoring lead with two assists for Toronto (8-3-1). Kessel, off to the best scoring start for the Maple Leafs since 1944-45, has 10 goals and 10 assists in 12 games.
Lupul has eight goals this season. He totalled 14 last season in 54 games with the Ducks and Maple Leafs combined.
“We have a lot of speed coming down the ice right now,” Lupul said. “When we’re skating like that, we’re tough to handle. We might not be the most physical team around, but when we skate like this, we’re tough to stop.”
Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson had an another analogy.
“I wouldn’t say we’re loosey-goosey,” Wilson said. “But it’s like being in a sidecar of a motorcycle and not knowing where the driver is going. I’m happy we won, don’t get me wrong. But we’re starting to get picky about the way we win.”
Wilson agreed that the Maple Leafs had to take chances against Brodeur.
“The shots at the net are usual plays,” Wilson said. “But the hardest thing when you’re coming back is the pass outs from behind the nets. That’s what we did well.”
Brodeur knew he didn’t play well in his return, his first game since injuring the shoulder Oct. 13 against Los Angeles.
“It took me a little while to get going,” said Brodeur, the NHL’s career leader in wins, games played by a goalie and shutouts. “I felt pretty confident going out there, but it’s always tough when you’re coming back from an injury. I didn’t play well, but I got the game under my belt. It was a tough game, because when you score three goals, you should win.”
Elias scored in the second period to give him 93 power-play goals with New Jersey, taking over the franchise lead from former coach John MacLean.
“We had our spurts, but we have to play better than just spurts,” Elias said. “We need to play responsibly on defence and that will lead to more opportunities.”
Toronto got on the scoreboard first at 8:37 of the first period, when Crabb scored his first goal of the season. New Jersey failed to clear after a mad scramble in front and Crabb was left unattended in front of the net and alertly knocked the puck past Brodeur.
Four minutes later, the Devils tied the score on a power-play goal. With Philippe Dupuis in the penalty box for holding the stick, Zubrus scored his third goal of the season, set up by an aggressive move to the net by rookie Adam Henrique. Zubrus knocked home a rebound of Henrique’s attempt.
Toronto regained the lead late in the first period when Jake Gardiner faked a slapshot, then passed across to Grabovski, who tucked it past Brodeur at 15:50 for a 2-1 lead. Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson was credited with an assist.
The Devils tied it again in the second period, also on a power play. Elias netted his fifth goal of the season, with assists from Ilya Kovalchuk and rookie Adam Larsson. It was the first NHL point for the 18-year-old Larsson, the team’s first-round draft pick (fourth overall) last June.
Toronto wasted little time taking back the lead. Just three minutes after Elias’ goal, Lupul got his first of the night, knocking in a rebound while Brodeur was screened in front.
New Jersey tied the game for a third time on a breakaway goal from Clarkson, who skated past the Toronto defence after getting a fine feed from Nick Palmieri.
Lupul’s second goal of the game, a shot that handcuffed Brodeur and managed to sneak by his catching glove, gave Toronto a 4-3 lead in the second.
“I was just trying to take advantage at the end of a shift,” Lupul said. “I just tried to put it in the corner toward the net and it went in. It wasn’t the prettiest goal, but it was all right. He really looked shaky and looked like he had been out for a while.”
Said Brodeur: “It’s a shot I usually get.”
Lupul added his third of the period off a fine rush by Kessel, who brought the puck into the Devils’ zone and fired a shot that Brodeur stopped. But he could not come across the crease in time to stop Lupul, who made it 5-3.
NOTES: Not only did Larsson get his first NHL point, but so did journeyman Brad Mills, who had his first assist. Mills is 28. … The Devils snapped an 0-for-8 skid on the power play by scoring twice.