TORONTO – With a successful start behind him, Jonas Gustavsson wasted no time before looking ahead to the Toronto Maple Leafs next game.
The Swedish goaltender filled in admirably for the injured J.S. Giguere on Thursday, stopping 29 shots in a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. The Maple Leafs will be relying heavily on Gustavsson over the next week or two while Giguere recovers from a groin strain.
The atmosphere at Air Canada Centre was relatively dull with two of the league’s lowest-scoring teams facing one another on Thursday. But Gustavsson was looking forward to a livelier evening with Toronto set to pay a visit to Montreal on Saturday.
“It’s awesome, you want to play those games when the crowd is going nuts and it’s really loud,” said Gustavsson. “Games with a big rival are always fun to play because you really want to win those games. That’s a game I’m really looking forward to.”
The game against New Jersey seemed quickly forgotten. Toronto put in a solid effort and came away with a second straight victory after enduring an ugly eight-game winless slide.
“We lost quite a bit in a row and now we’ve won two,” said Leafs forward Phil Kessel, who had a standout evening. “Hopefully we can get a couple more.”
Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski and Kris Versteeg scored for Toronto (7-8-3). Nazem Kadri added two assists and looked comfortable on the top line with Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
“Right now I’m feeling good, I’m playing good, and our team is playing exceptionally well too,” said Kadri.
Dainius Zubrus had the lone goal in reply for the struggling Devils (5-12-2).
The mounting problems for New Jersey appear to be getting even bigger. Already hampered by injuries, goaltender Martin Brodeur had to be replaced by Johan Hedberg after two periods because he experienced a recurrence of an injury to his right elbow.
“(It was) more cautionary than anything to make sure he’s fine,” said Devils coach John MacLean. “We’ll evaluate him tomorrow.”
Tension is clearly mounting around the Devils, who sit 14th in the Eastern Conference. The players held a lengthy closed-door meeting after the game.
“It’s tough to win hockey games when you don’t score goals,” said Devils forward Adam Mair. “We’ve been shut out now three times in are last six games and we only got one tonight, so we’ve got to find a way to generate more offence.”
Versteeg iced the game for Toronto with his third goal in two games—all while manning the point on the power play. He hammered a nice pass from Kadri behind Hedberg with less than seven minutes to play in regulation.
The forward is starting to feel more comfortable playing the point, something he used to watch former teammate Patrick Sharp do in Chicago.
“I’ve kind of always watched (Sharp) from the bench when he was playing,” said Versteeg. “Just the smart, simple plays he would make. … There’s still a lot of learning for me to do.”
Toronto’s suddenly scorching power play has connected on six of its 11 opportunities.
Grabovski’s goal to open the scoring also came with the man advantage. Brodeur let out a large rebound and the Belarusian centre fired home his fifth goal in six games at 1:42 of the second period.
“I’ve had a lot of chances against (Brodeur) and I didn’t score,” said Grabovski. “Right now I’m very happy.”
Kessel made it 2-0 after being thwarted on a couple good opportunities earlier in the game. Standing alone at the side of the goal, he took a nice pass from Kadri and beat Brodeur at 6:29.
The Devils narrowed the lead before the end of the period. Zubrus had Alexander Vasyunov’s shot go off his skate and through Gustavsson’s legs at 10:14.
But the Swede stood tall with the New Jersey pressuring late in the game.
“He played really well,” said Wilson. “Bad luck the way the puck deflected and trickled through his legs on the goal. He made a lot of saves and used his size well on shots that he could see.”
Notes:Carl Gunnarsson was back in the Leafs lineup, replacing Brett Lebda on the blue-line … Kadri has three assists in three games … Stephen Gionta played his fifth career game for the Devils. His brother Brian is captain of the Montreal Canadiens … Leafs centre Tim Brentplayed his 18th straight game. The 26-year-old had only appeared in 19 total prior to this season … Brodeur watched the final 20 minutes from the end of the bench … Announced attendance was 19,271.