By HOWARD BERGER
NEWARK (Mar. 24) – It will rank among the most unusual conquests of 2011-12 for the Maple Leafs, but we all know that beggars can’t be choosers.
After serving up those consecutive-night turkeys against Boston and the Islanders, the Leafs would have taken a forfeit here in New Jersey on Friday – anything to help cleanse the bitter taste of humiliation. As it were, the visitors withstood a lop-sided attack by the Devils and a pair of late goals in regulation time that erased a 3-1 lead. James Reimer and Nazem Kadri played hero in a most-welcomed escape for the Blue and White.
For Reimer, it was a pleasant feeling of deja vu. The Leafs were out-gunned by the Devils, 46-17, through 65 minutes of regulation and overtime, but Reimer – making his sixth consecutive start for Randy Carlyle – turned back the clock one calendar year to a time when he routinely stole points for the Leafs as a rookie in the NHL. Deploying Reimer on a regular basis is prudent strategy by Carlyle, who knows the goaltender is under contract to the club for the next two seasons. As a relative newcomer, Carlyle must use these otherwise-meaningless games to evaluate his personnel, and to help Brian Burke determine whether the Leafs will venture to land an established, No. 1 goalie in the off-season.
Carlyle took an early gander at Jonas Gustavsson after assuming the Leaf coaching reigns from Ron Wilson, and no one outside the organization is privy to his assessment. It could also be a moot point, as the Leafs returning with the same goaltending tandem next fall doesn’t seem plausible. Gustavsson will likely be on the open market in July and will have no problem finding a new team, despite his uneven performance with the Leafs.
If Carlyle is influenced by first impressions, Kadri will be an every-night contributor for him next season. Stagnant for two years under Wilson, the Leafs’ top draft choice in 2009 had a terrific game against the Devils, one day after being recalled, as an injury replacement, from the AHL Toronto Marlies. He positioned himself to re-direct Jake Gardiner’s shot from the point past Martin Brodeur in the second period – giving Leafs a 2-0 lead.
And, he capped off the night by smartly fooling Brodeur with a forehand-deke to win the game, 4-3, in the third round of shoot-out.
JUBILANT LEAFS MOB NAZEM KADRI AT THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER AFTER HIS SCINTILLATING DEKE OF MARTIN BRODEUR ENDED THE HOCKEY GAME.
Kadri will not publicly castigate Wilson, even though the ex-coach appeared more-than skeptical about his ability to play a 200-foot game – such lack of confidence consigning the young player to the AHL. Carlyle may be similarly dubious, but could also appreciate Kadri’s innate skill as an attacking threat and allow him to freelance more regularly – providing it happens with a modicum of defensive responsibility. Time, of course, will tell, but it’s obvious that Kadri has a unique gift – one that never flourished under his first NHL coach.
My photo-review, now, of the Leafs shootout triumph here in Newark:
FANS OF BOTH TEAMS WALKED TO THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER ON FRIDAY… “JAKE GARDINER” STOPPING FOR A HOT DOG ON HIS WAY INTO THE ARENA.
WITHOUT EXCHANGING EVEN A GLANCE, MARTIN BRODEUR AND DION PHANEUF STRETCHED IN THE CENTRE-ICE AREA (ABOVE) BEFORE PARTAKING IN THE PRE-GAME WARM-UP.
COACH RANDY CARLYLE WATCHES WARM-UP (ABOVE-LEFT) IN FRONT OF LEAF SUPPORTERS WHILE THE PLAYERS SURROUND JONAS GUSTAVSSON IN A SWARMING DRILL. PHANEUF ACCEPTS HIGH-FIVE’S (BELOW) WHILE LEAVING THE ICE.
PRE-GAME “ART” (ABOVE) PROJECTED ON CENTRE-ICE CIRCLE.
REFEREE BRIAN POCHMARA DROPS THE PUCK (ABOVE) BETWEEN LEAFS’ MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI AND DEVILS’ ROOKIE ADAM HENRIQUE.
REIMER’S BUSY NIGHT STARTED EARLY, AS EX-LEAF ALEXEI PONIKAROVSKY (ABOVE) AND DEVILS’ CAPTAIN ZACH PARISE (BELOW) CAUSED HAVOC AROUND THE VISITORS’ GOAL.
THERE WAS HARDLY AN OVERFLOW AUDIENCE IN THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER (ABOVE AND BELOW) – THE ANNOUNCED ATTENDANCE OF 16,022 NOT EVEN CLOSE.
BRODEUR TOOK CARE OF HIS END IN THE FIRST PERIOD (ABOVE), THOUGH HE ENJOYED A WALK IN THE PARK COMPARED TO REIMER, AS SHOT TOTALS INDICATED AFTER 20 MINUTES.
DEVILS MAREK ZIDLICKY FIRES FROM THE POINT (ABOVE) EARLY IN THE SECOND PERIOD.
TIM CONNOLLY PARKED HIMSELF IN BRODEUR’S GRILL ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS (ABOVE AND BELOW), FORCING THE DEVILS GOALIE TO CONTEND WITH THE DISTRACTION.
TORONTO’S MATT LOMBARDI SKATES AWAY (ABOVE) IN UTTER DISBELIEF AFTER SOMEHOW LIFTING THE PUCK OVER A YAWNING NEW JERSEY NET AND INTO THE PROTECTIVE SCREEN ABOVE THE GLASS WITH THE GAME STILL SCORELESS IN THE MIDDLE PERIOD. THE HALFWAY POINT OF REGULATION TIME (BELOW) INDICATED NEW JERSEY’S TERRITORIAL EDGE.
AS THE SAYING GOES, THE ONLY NUMBER THAT MATTERS IN HOCKEY IS THE SCORING TOTAL AND THE LEAFS STRUCK QUICKLY ON GOALS BY TYLER BOZAK (ABOVE) AND KADRI (BELOW) TO CRAFT A 2-0 LEAD, DESPITE BEING OUTSHOT BY A 2-1 RATIO. KADRI (BELOW-LEFT) IS SEEN RE-DIRECTING GARDINER’S POINT-DRIVE PAST BRODEUR.
PARISE, AS USUAL, WAS IN THE VICINITY OF THE LEAF NET ON ALMOST EVERY SHIFT (ABOVE), AND THE DEVILS FINALLY SOLVED REIMER ON THEIR 27th SHOT (BELOW) – JACOB JOSEFSON SCORING AT 18:57 OF THE MIDDLE FRAME.
A PAIR OF VIEWS (ABOVE AND BELOW) FROM THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER PRESS BOX OF FRESH ICE EARLY IN THE THIRD PERIOD – LEAFS CLINGING TO THEIR 2-1 LEAD.
BRODEUR TOOK A BREATHER AT THE DEVILS BENCH (ABOVE) DURING A TV TIME-OUT, BUT WAS PROMPTLY BEATEN BY DAVID STECKEL (OUT OF PICTURE, BELOW) FOR A 3-1 TORONTO LEAD AT 9:25 OF THE THIRD.
LEAFS WERE UNDER ATTACK IN THE LATTER HALF OF THE PERIOD (ABOVE) AND ULTIMATELY COULD NOT MAINTAIN THEIR TWO-GOAL ADVANTAGE – PARISE AND HENRIQUE SCORING IN A 2:22 SPAN TO EVEN THE COUNT (BELOW) WITH 4:42 REMAINING.
AS TORTURED LEAF FANS AWAITED THE INEVITABLE, REIMER HELD HIS GROUND AMID A SWARM IN THE DYING MOMENTS OF REGULATION AND THROUGH THE FIVE-MINUTE OVERTIME PERIOD – HE AND BRODEUR THEN PREPARING FOR THE SHOOT-OUT (BELOW).
ILYA KOVALCHUK AWAITS WHISTLE FROM REFEREE (ABOVE) AND THEN BEGINS THE SHOOT-OUT BY FOOLING REIMER WITH ONE OF HIS PATENTED SHOTS (BELOW).
LEAFS, HOWEVER, WERE NOT TO BE DENIED, AS TYLER BOZAK RIPPED ONE PAST BRODEUR ON THE GLOVE-SIDE SECONDS LATER.
NAZEM KADRI EYES BRODEUR (ABOVE) AND ENDS THE GAME (BELOW) WITH A TERRIFIC FORE-HAND DEKE OF THE FUTURE HALL-OF-FAME GOALTENDER.
LEAF FANS WERE RATHER DELIRIOUS OUTSIDE THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER.
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