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Leafs Home-Ice Dreams Dashed With Loss To Devils

April 12, 2024, 2:52 PM ET [250 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs may have had designs on hosting the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs just over a week from now, but that would have likely entailed winning the last four games on their schedule or Florida tripping up before the two clubs met in Sunrise next Tuesday. All of that is now moot after the Leafs 6-5 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.

Auston Matthews increased his hold on the Rocket Richard Trophy and closed the gap to two goals in his quest for 70 with a pair of tallies, John Tavares also scored twice, and David Kampf added a single, but there were signs of concern in a game leading into the postseason.

The game was easily Ilya Samsonov’s worst since his return from his reset in early January, allowing six goals on 20 shots. Toronto’s special teams were dismal, as the power play remained ineffective going 0-for-3 on the night, and the penalty kill allowed three New Jersey goals on four opportunities without top center Jack Hughes in the lineup. Another concern is the timing that goals were allowed. After Tavares opened the scoring 18 seconds into the game, Toronto allowed Erik Haula to tie the score just 21 seconds later.

Matthews go-ahead goal lasted less than two minutes thanks to a bad giveaway by veteran Mark Giordano. After Matthews and Kampf put the Leafs ahead in the middle frame, the Devils tied the game with 12 seconds left on a Timo Meier power play marker, and in the third after Tavares tied the game, Toronto gave up Jesper Bratt’s game-winner with 1:14 left in regulation.

"It was a loose game and a strange game. We scored on the first shift on the first shot. We gave them a couple of gifts after that.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game. “Strange game tonight. It is not one that you love, but we will move on. We didn’t play as bad of a game as the score shows, but these things happen, especially at this time of year.”

Joel Edmundson returned to the lineup on Thursday and the Leafs received a scare when the veteran blueliner took a shot off the skate that saw him limp to the Toronto bench in the first period, but he did not miss a shift and played over 19 minutes in the game. In the positive column, Matthews notching a pair of goals put him within range of reaching 70 on Saturday in the home finale against Detroit.

Although not mathematically impossible, the Leafs loss in regulation, coupled with the Panthers 4-0 shutout of Columbus has Florida five points up over Toronto in their race for second place in the Atlantic. If the Panthers win over Buffalo on Saturday, they will lock Toronto into third spot in the division, but a first-round match between the two clubs is not etched in stone, since Florida is only one point in back of Boston for top spot in the Atlantic.

The Bruins have three games left, but two are on the road against clubs fighting for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot; Saturday in Pittsburgh and Monday in Washington, before finishing the regular season at home against Ottawa on Tuesday. After playing the Sabres on Saturday, the Panthers finish against the Leafs on Tuesday, putting Toronto in the position potentially of controlling who they will face in the first round.


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