That said, what really kept the Devils from blowing the Leafs away flows down to two reasons. Read on to learn more.
The first reason is that the Devils were just really unfortunate at shooting the puck all night long. Rushing the puck up ice? No problem. Dumping it in and winning the battles on the boards? The Devils did that well. Passing the puck? Pretty good, overall. Shooting? Well, not so much. The Devils' shots hit a ton of skates, shins, and sticks - stopping them from reaching Vesa Toskala. The Devils were officially blocked THIRTY times. I'm not making this up, check out the Event Summary via the NHL.com boxscore. The Leafs were bad at preventing the Devils from shooting, but they made up for it by getting in the way!
The second reason is Vesa Toskala himself. Believe it or not, as much as I complain about the missed shots and blocked shots, the Devils put 52 on Toskala tonight. He has been doing well as of late and he was better than well tonight. You can't blame him for the Devils' first goal. It was a bizarre one driven by David Clarkson but it doesn't happen if Jeff Finger doesn't pressure Clarkson from behind, jack up Toskala, and hit the net. A definite good break for the Devils. Toskala really only got burned by one shot: Patrik Elias' laser on a power play in the third period. And no one was going to stop a shot like that. It was fast, it was precise, and it was amazing. Than there was the game winner:
Now that's an exciting end to an intense game! Poor Lee Stempniak! If he didn't throw it in the corner blindly, Gionta doesn't have the space to fly up ice. The play really started with that mistake. Thankfully, Gionta did and dropped a hammer of a shot on Toskala that he struggled with. Even more thankfully, Oduya was up on that play to just finish off that trickling puck!
I suppose Toskala should have also held on Gionta's shot in the dying seconds of overtime. If held onto it, Johnny Oduya doesn't have a rolling puck to just put in while Pavel Kubina was hitting him, and we're talking a shootout. Yet, you can't fault Toskala for tonight's game.
You also can't fault the Leafs. The Leafs started turning up the intensity (and the shots!) during a power play in the first period. While they didn't score, the game became more open, the Leafs started having better shifts, and the Devils' defense and Martin Brodeur were tested. Brodeur definitely rose to the task in the 32 shots he faced. Paul Martin, in my opinion, had a fantastic night in his own end - the only thing that didn't go right was a bad bounce off his shin pad that he had no control over. Other than that, he was constant (27 minutes on the ice) and he was strong with the puck. I don't think it's coincidence the
The two goals the Leafs got both came from John Mitchell, who definitely played with some vigor. His first goal was right outside the crease, an easy feed from Jason Blake. You could say Brodeur made a mistake, playing the pass. He didn't stop the pass, so Mitchell did well to finish it. Later on, after a penalty kill where the Devils were really pressured, Mike Mottau sweeps his stick and catches a Leaf for tripping. Kubina took a slap shot, it bounces off Martin's shin pad (covering Matt Stajan?), and Mitchell had an easy net to put it in. If only Mottau didn't swing that stick!
The Leafs earned these goals and they really gave the Devils a good test! New Jersey didn't dominate the game and had to really want it more on the ice. Their shooting could have been a lot better despite how many they got on Toskala. Some of the calls the Devils took were dumb and were avoidable. But it's heartening to know that they can go on the road and win a game where not everything is in the Devils' favor. Where the Devils had to get out there, survive a close game, not fold under the pressure, and fight for the puck on every shift.
This win further establishes that the Devils can win by multiple ways. And that's what great teams do.