TORONTO – With his team struggling to generate any sort of offence through two periods Monday, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle decided to lighten the mood in the second intermission.
It clearly worked.
James Reimer held the fort with 31 saves and Phil Kessel broke a scoreless tie on the power play in the third period as the Toronto Maple Leafs shut out the New Jersey Devils 2-0.
Toronto had just five shots through two periods but instead of reading his players the riot act, Carlyle decided to crack some jokes to ease the tension.
“We knew we hadn’t played very well for 40 minutes and we just tried to generate some energy because we were all tensed up and whatnot,” Carlyle said. “We tried to get a little bit of fun going in the room in between periods to relieve some of the pressure.”
And after Reimer made two huge saves on Adam Henrique and Patrick Elias that bookended Devils defenceman Andy Green hitting the post midway through the third, Kessel finally opened the scoring with a shot that beat New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur shortside at 13:28.
Toronto defenceman Cody Franson said Monday’s second intermission wasn’t the first time Carlyle has used comedy to give the Maple Leafs (24-14-5) a shot in the arm.
“He came in with a speech to lighten the mood a little bit and called a couple guys out individually in a joking manner … and just said make sure you go out there and have some fun and execute our system,” Franson said. “It’s a credit to the coaching staff to recognize the mood in the dressing room and what the boys need.”
Reimer was by far the busier of the two goalies and the crowd show its appreciation with a standing ovation midway through the third as the club continues its push for Toronto’s first playoff birth since 2004.
“It gives you chills and I’m sure it gave him chills because they weren’t cheering for us, they were cheering for him,” said Maple Leafs centre Jay McClement, who scored into an empty net with 36.6 seconds left on the clock. “We weren’t playing too well in front of him but it’s good to see him come out and steal one for us.”
Despite the lopsided shot count, Reimer was diplomatic in his assessment of the Maple Leafs’ play in front of him, adding that New Jersey’s stifling style doesn’t give teams much room.
“They’re trying and it’s just more indicative of how the other team’s playing,” said Reimer, who picked up his third shutout of the season. “They’re a tight-checking team and they’ve been doing that to teams recently so I don’t think it’s really indicative of how we were playing.
“We knew it was going to be that kind of a game and we just have to hang in there an hopefully capitalize on one of our chances.”
Brodeur made 11 saves for the Devils (15-17-10), who entered play 11th in the Eastern Conference and in a battle for their playoff lives a year after making the Stanley Cup final.
“When you do get some shots and get into the rhythm you feel a lot better about yourself, about your game and that next scoring chance you feel that you’re able to stop,” Brodeur said. “When you don’t have a shot for a while it makes it hard.”
New Jersey has now dropped 10 in a row (0-6-4), while Toronto has lost just once in regulation in its last 14 (9-1-4).
“I think we could have won our last six or seven games and I don’t doubt that we can win six or seven in a row,” said Devils coach Peter DeBoer. “We don’t have to change a lot to do that other than to score a few goals.”
After recording just five shots on goal through two periods, Dion Phaneuf directed Toronto’s sixth effort of the evening early in the third, eliciting a Bronx cheer from the crowd.
James van Riemsdyk then fired a shot from the slot that Brodeur, who could be excused for being half asleep from the lack for activity, stopped with his glove.
Reimer then took over the game before Kessel finally broke the deadlock.
“Obviously we didn’t play anywhere near to what our expectations were but there’s the old adage of hockey—you don’t critique a win. Good teams find ways to win hockey games,” Carlyle said. “I thought we didn’t really have our work boots on, we got out-competed early in the game but our goaltender stole us a hockey game.”
Coming off a dominating 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, the Maple Leafs didn’t register a shot on goal until just after the seven-minute mark of a sluggish opening period—a weak effort from centre by defenceman Mark Fraser.
The Devils carried much of the play in the opening 20 minutes, outshooting Toronto 9-3, but Reimer closed the door when called upon. The three shots on goal tied Maple Leafs’ lowest output in a period this season, which came in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Jan. 26.
Toronto then set a new mark for shot futility in 2013 with just two shots in the second period as the Devils played their usual tight-checking style against a Maple Leafs lineup that was unable to match New Jersey’s desperation.
Before stealing the show in the third, Reimer was also by far the best player on the ice for Toronto through two periods, including a big glove save off Henrique three minutes into the second and another stop off Elias in the final minute.
“If he plays like that every game I don’t know why they’re looking to get another goalie in here,” Brodeur said of Reimer. “He was unbelievable. I think his poise in the net, his rebound control, he stays in his net and plays within himself—he looked really good, really confident.”
Notes: Maple Leafs left-winger Joffrey Lupul (concussion) missed his fifth straight game. Lupul practised on Sunday and participated in Monday’s pre-game skate, but did not take the warmup. The 29-year-old, who missed 25 games with a broken forearm earlier this season, has eight goals and six assists in just 10 contests in 2013. Carlyle said there’s a chance he could play Tuesday night in Washington … Reimer has started 13 of the last 14 games for Toronto. Monday was his eighth straight start. … Brodeur remains stuck on 666 career wins. The 40-year-old’s last victory came March 23 against Florida. … Kessel was named the NHL’s second star of the week. The sniper had five goals and two assists in three games. … Attendance at Air Canada Centre was 19,425. … There was a moment of silence prior to the national anthems for the victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon.