Playing New Jersey for the first time since Cam Janssen injured Tomas Kaberle with a late hit, Toronto had goals from Kyle Wellwood and Nik Antropov to edge the Devils 2-1 on Tuesday night.
Captain Mats Sundin reached 900 points as a Maple Leaf by assisting on both goals for Toronto (35-28-10), which moved into a tie for eighth in the conference with Carolina and Montreal.
Travis Zajac replied for New Jersey (43-22-8).
A lengthy fight in the first period was the only fallout from the concussion Janssen gave Kaberle on March 2. Maple Leafs tough guy Wade Belak, dressed for just the third time this month, squared off with Janssen at centre ice.
Most of the 19,518 in attendance at Air Canada Centre stood on their feet and chanted Belak’s name while the players exchanged punches for over a minute and a half. That reaction paled in comparison to the one from the Leafs bench, where Kaberle’s teammates looked happier than a bunch of kids watching a scrap in the schoolyard.
It also brought some life to the game, which Toronto grabbed early control of with a power-play goal at 18:33 of the first period.
Wellwood one-timed a Sundin pass through the legs of Martin Brodeur to make it 1-0. The Maple Leafs had allowed the first goal in eight of their last nine games and doing that against the defensive Devils could have been costly.
Even still, New Jersey had its share of chances to draw even in the second period. The Devils only registered six shots, but it’s three that didn’t count that they were thinking about – Zach Parise and David Clarkson each hit the post behind Andrew Raycroft while Scott Gomez missed a wide open goal after the Leafs goalie had coughed up the puck.
Antropov’s goal at 6:09 of the third period made it 2-0 for Toronto a few minutes after Devils forward Jamie Langenbrunner had hit yet another post.
But Zajac scored 40 seconds later to make it 2-1 and set up a tight finish.
Raycroft made some nifty in the final minutes to preserve a badly needed victory for his team.
With the Janssen saga now behind them, the Maple Leafs can finally look ahead to something even bigger – Kaberle’s expected return on Friday night for a tough road game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Notes: The Devils are an amazing 12-2-2 away from Continental Airlines Arena in 2007 . . . It was the third career game for the 22-year-old Clarkson, who grew up in Toronto and regularly attended games at Maple Leaf Gardens . . . Belak’s last goal came on Dec. 20, 2003 against Montreal – a span of 132 games . . . The Maple Leafs announced the signing of defenceman Reid Cashman, who recently finished playing at Quinnipac University.