The Toronto Maple Leafs got back to their winning ways, sweeping their season series with the New Jersey Devils with a 4-2 victory at the Prudential Center in Newark on Thursday. The Leafs was mostly attributable to the scoring generated by the top line of John Tavares, Mitch Marner and the returning Zach Hyman.
Tavares scored a pair of goals (the first being the 300th of his NHL career) and added an assist, Marner scored an insurance empty-net goal and assisted on Tavares’ goal with 6.5 second left in the first period, but the most impactful member of the line was Hyman, who returned to the lineup after missing more than three weeks with an ankle injury, registered an assist on Connor Brown’s opening goal (originally credited to Ron Hainsey) and was extremely effective at winning battles along the boards and getting the puck to his linemates.
“(Hyman was) plus-four, he was involved in three goals there and heavy down low. It goes to show you need people to win the puck back and he was able to do that for us.” ” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “It was good for Tavares, obviously 301 goals is a lot of goals in the National League. That line was good for us tonight.”
Toronto jumped on the struggling Devils and held a 3-0 lead into the second period, but seemed to sit back in the middle frame and allowed New Jersey to gain momentum, carry the play and get scoring chances on goalie Michael Hutchinson. The veteran backup played well in his fourth consecutive start (making 27 saves for his second victory), but allowed a juicy rebound on Blake Coleman’s goal.
New Jersey scored 26 seconds later after a bad Jake Gardiner giveaway resulted in a Brian Boyle goal that cut the deficit to one, but the Leafs were able to limit the Devils to only three shots in the third period and hold on for their 16th road victory of the season.
“I liked that in the third period we didn't back up and play in our own zone. We played the game in the offensive zone and we still had the puck, we took care of it.” Babcock said. “We didn't give up much. I thought the first period was like that too, it was just the second period it got away from us.”
The Leafs will return to action on Saturday, as they host the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Arena. The meeting will be the final one between the two Atlantic Division rivals until potentially a matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
Toronto will look to bounce back from a bad effort in Boston last month, in which the Bruins stepped up their physical play and pushed the Leafs around in a 6-3 win.
It was thought that Frederik Andersen would make his return on Saturday, but the Leafs starter’s return may be pushed back to Monday against Colorado and that Hutchinson would make his fifth straight start.
The Leafs made a minor trade on Friday, shipping forward Morgan Klimchuk to the Ottawa Senators for winger Gabriel Gagne.
Klimchuk (a 2013 first round pick of the Calgary Flames) was obtained in late November in exchange for defenseman Andrew Nielsen and scored two goals for the Toronto Marlies in 13 games.
Gagne was a second round pick of the Sens (36th overall) in 2015 and is in his third season in the American Hockey League. The big 22-year-old winger (6’5”, 214 lb.) scored 20 goals for Belleville last season, but has only nine points (4 goals and 5 assists) in 33 games this season.
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