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Knee Jerk Reaction: Leafs let one slip away against the Devils

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Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
22 days ago
The Leafs came out of the gates flying and earned a quick lead when Tyler Bertuzzi buried a pretty breakaway pass from Max Domi just over a minute into the game, but they quickly surrendered that lead on goal that would be a sign of things to come in a disappointing loss to the Devils on Tuesday night.
With the Leafs already up 1-0 and carrying the run of play in the opening minutes, Luke Hughes rushed up the ice and let go of a seemingly harmless shot from the top of the zone that beat Joseph Woll cleanly – the type of goal that could zap a team’s momentum. The Leafs persevered, however, and picked up their goaltender with a relentless offensive attack that saw them fire a season-high 25 shots on goal in the first period.
As he did for most of the night, Jake Allen withstood the early barrage, and the Devils were able to take advantage of a rare first-period blemish by the Leafs as Nico Hischier finished off a 2-on-1 rush to give New Jersey a 2-1 lead late in the opening frame.
To the Leafs credit, they came out firing once again to begin the second and quickly regained the lead off of goals by William Nylander and Auston Matthews less than five minutes into the period. It looked like a game the Leafs would be able to run away with, but the same problems that have plagued the team time and time again rose to the forefront once again.
With Toronto’s fourth line following up the Matthews go-ahead goal, the Devils managed to establish a low cycle in the Leafs zone, and Timo Meier got lost creeping into the high slot and tied the game less than a minute later. The Devils would strike again shortly thereafter, as Max Wilman collected an uncontested rebound in front of Woll to give the Devils back the lead heading into the third period.
The Leafs continued to push and generate offensive chances as they searched for the tying goal in the third period, but Allen was up to the task and made a number of difficult stops, finishing with 42 saves in the contest. Another turnover in the offensive zone was the nail in the coffin for the Leafs, as Curtis Lazar picked off a desperation pass from Domi to send Jack Hughes in all alone, where he was able to beat Woll with a slick backhand finish.
Tuesday’s loss to the Devils followed a similar theme to many of the Leafs’ defeats this season in that they controlled the play and generated enough chances to win but made just enough glaring mistakes to cost themselves the game. Woll would certainly like to have the Devils’ first goal back, and probably one or two more, while the typically responsible McMann hung his defenceman and netminder out to dry on the second New Jersey marker, and Domi did the same on the late insurance tally.
The Leafs have shown the ability to be a dominant team for long stretches, but they have also continued to give points away with repeated self-inflicted wounds. These last few games down the stretch might not mean much in terms of the final standings for the Leafs, but you can rest assured that head coach Sheldon Keefe will be emphasizing the need to clean up those errors as they prepare for another crucial postseason for this core.

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