It was 80’s night at the Prudential Center Thursday, site of the Toronto Maple Leafs, New Jersey Devils contest. The fun filled evening included a rock band playing songs from the era during the intermissions, fans dressed for the occasion and even TV game analyst and bobble head model Ken Daneyko donning a hockey hair wig, was a good sport before the 2/3 full building.
Both teams took turns playing similar to the not so “good years” from the 80’s with the Devils allowing the Leafs to dominate the opening frame building a 3-0 lead on goals from Ron Hainsey and a pair of lights from leading goal scorer John Tavares (who scored his 300th and 301st career goals).
Toronto played the good guests returning the hospitality especially in their own end in the second period allowing the Devils to climb back into the game on goals by Blake Coleman and a soft one from ex-Leaf Brian Boyle 26 seconds apart.
Michael Hutchinson starting his fourth consecutive game looked sharp throughout save for the Boyle goal, giving the Leafs the type of backup goaltending needed down the stretch.
Two Jake Gardiner miscues lead to both Devils goals while defense partner Nikita Zaitsev’s woes clearing the puck out of his own zone continue to be a challenge for the 3rd year Maple Leaf. It’s becoming more apparent by the game GM Kyle Dubas needs to tighten up the backend with a little more sandpaper. Teams pressure the unsteady Maple Leafs blue line cutting off the out let pass, forcing them to clear the zone up the boards. Opposing teams pinching are risking the chance of a 2-1 but word has spread throughout the league this is the formula for success against the speedy Maple Leafs.
By finishing their checks, the Devils grinded the game to a halt in the second frustrating the Maple Leafs to continuously turn the puck over providing scoring chances for the home side.
Toronto deserves full credit for digging down deep and playing an excellent third period with most of the game tilted in the New Jersey end. The key for the Leafs is to force teams to chase the game and they did that with positive results against the Devils who were no match for the Leafs especially with best player Taylor Hall on the sidelines.
New Jersey goalie Keith Kinkaid, after allowing three in the first, shut the door the rest of the way robbing Kadri, Tavares, and Marleau in a game that shouldn’t have been close. He was very sharp in third when the Leafs took the game back and an empty netter from Mitch Marner secured the Toronto 4-2 victory.
The Leafs could be forgiven maybe looking beyond New Jersey with tough matches against Boston, Colorado and Tampa the next week.