Matthews nets 66th goal, picks up 31st multi-point game of season as Maple Leafs defeat Devils 5-2

Photo credit:Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
17 days ago
For the second time this season, and the first of two meetings this week, the Toronto Maple Leafs and New Jersey Devils took on one another last night at Prudential Center, with both teams heading in opposite directions as the 2023-24 regular season is coming to a close.

First period:

The last two games for the Maple Leafs – Saturday night in Montreal and Monday night against Pittsburgh – started slow and sloppy, and that was the trend last night through the first six minutes. Toronto was held without a shot on Jake Allen for a quarter of the opening period until a shot from distance tested Jake Allen.
However, a couple of shifts after testing the Devils’ netminder, the third line, with Nick Robertson on the wing this time, got on the board after an excellent offensive zone shift, tiring out the Devils’ players. T.J. Brodie, who entered last night with eight assists in his previous 12 games, fed Morgan Rielly at the point, who fired a shot from distance. Nick Robertson found the rebound and fired his 13th goal of the season past Allen for the 1-0 lead.
It was a slow start for the road team, but after spending some time in the offensive zone and finding the back of the net, the Maple Leafs started to look like themselves again. Unfortunately, less than six minutes after Robertson’s tally, things broke down for Toronto, and New Jersey tied the game at one. The first line was toward the end of their shift, and Bertuzzi and Domi were in the offensive zone on the forecheck. They couldn’t retrieve the puck, and Dawson Mercer stretched a pass up ice to Nico Hischier, who split Benoit and McCabe, got in alone against Woll and undressed him for his 27th goal of the season.
It was a nothing play that ended up with the puck in the back of Toronto’s net. Fortunately, the Maple Leafs were awarded their first power play of the game roughly 1:30 after the tying goal, but the power play struggles continued for Toronto. After drawing a penalty to get them on the man advantage, Knies was tripped up by Timo Meier a couple of shifts later, and the road team returned to the power play with less than a minute to play, meaning the Maple Leafs started the second frame with over a minute of power play time.
Toronto entered the first intermission tied 1-1 and outshooting New Jersey 7-4.

Second period:

Similarly to their first power play opportunity, Toronto couldn’t solve Allen on the man advantage and the game remained tied at one despite two great looks in tight from Auston Matthews and John Tavares.
After losing the one-goal lead and going 0-for-2 on their two power-play chances, Matthew Knies, following drawing both of the penalties, took a penalty of his own after he turned the puck over in the offensive zone, sending the Devils to their first power-play of the night. New Jersey found the back of the net relatively quickly after Dawson Mercer beat Woll in tight for his 20th goal, taking the one-goal lead early in the second period.
I’m not sure Sheldon Keefe will like that goal, given nobody had Mercer in front of the net, and they completely broke down defensively, allowing New Jersey to take the 2-1 lead on just their seventh shot of the game. After letting the Devils take the one-goal lead five minutes into the middle period, it started to feel like the previous meeting between these teams. Toronto was the better team, but Jake Allen had different plans, making a bunch of saves, and the opposite could be said about Woll after some defensive breakdowns from the defence.
But don’t panic! With five minutes to go in the period, the top line of the Maple Leafs went to work and scored twice in nine seconds to take the 3-2 lead.
At the 15:00 minute mark, Max Domi showed off his patience and playmaking as he set up Tyler Bertuzzi cross-ice for his 20th goal of the season, finally beating Allen after the veteran netminder had made some big saves. The game was now tied at two, and the vibes on the Maple Leafs’ bench were great, but within a blink of an eye, Mark Giordano scored his third goal of the season after blasting a knuckle puck past Allen nine seconds after the Bertuzzi tally.
Just like that, Toronto erased a one-goal deficit and scored twice in quick succession to retake the lead in the second half of the period, and less than two minutes after the go-ahead goal, Toronto returned to the power play after Chris Tierney was whistled for holding, giving Toronto a great chance to double their lead before heading into the final period of regulation.
Toronto thought they had scored their fourth goal of the night on the power play after William Nylander slid his 41st goal of the season past Allen, but after a quick review, without any explanation, it was determined it would not count. The TSN broadcast discussed John Tavares may have touched Allen’s glove with his stick, not allowing the goalie to cover the puck. Either way, Nylander’s goal got taken off the board, and the power play went 0-for-3 to end the period.
Toronto entered the second intermission up 3-2 and outshooting New Jersey 22-12.

Third period:

As mentioned in the previous postgame article, solid efforts in the third period haven’t been consistent for this team. Whether they’re leading entering the final 20 minutes or trailing, the Maple Leafs have been outshot and outscored in some of their games over the past couple of weeks. But the third period last night in New Jersey felt different and looked different with this team. They almost doubled their lead twice on two good looks, but Jake Allen continued to keep his team in the game. John Tavares had a brilliant look in tight, but Allen managed to dive and save the shot out of position with his chest.
A couple of shifts after robbing Tavares of his 25th goal of the season, Conor Timmins tested Allen with a shot from the right circle instead of feeding an unmarked Pontus Holmberg back door for the 4-2 lead. With roughly 13 minutes left on the clock, Toronto finally found the back of the net again, and it came off the stick of the man chasing 70 goals. After setting up Bertuzzi for his 20th goal in the previous period, Domi found Matthews, and he ripped his 66th goal of the season top shelf over Allen’s shoulder for the 4-2 lead, giving him the most goals scored in a single season since 1995-96.
Now Toronto was protecting their first multi-goal lead of the game, and honestly, they put the game in cruise control from that point onward. New Jersey did receive a power play toward the end of the period and pulled the goalie for the extra attacker, looking to cut into the Maple Leafs’ lead, but couldn’t do so.
Mitch Marner attempted a shot at the empty net but iced the puck, keeping his group on the ice for a defensive zone face-off. Luckily, Toronto won the face-off, and the puck made its way to Bertuzzi, who launched his 21st goal of the season – second of the night – into the vacant cage for the 5-2 lead and ultimately the win, improving to 46-23-9 on the season, 101 points. The Maple Leafs remain three points back of the Panthers with a game in hand and a meeting against them in Florida next week.

Who stood out:

Although he wasn’t tested a bunch last night, I thought Joseph Woll had a bounce-back game after some shaky starts lately. A big topic of conversation coming into the game last night was Woll letting in the first shot, given he had allowed that to happen in three of his previous four starts. Fortunately, he stopped the first shot, but it followed with him surrendering two goals on the next six shots. The 25-year-old then turned aside the next 13 shots to hold on for the 5-2 win, improving to 12-10-1 on the season and picking up his first win since March 28th against Washington.
Another game, another goal for Auston Matthews. Last night, Matthews scored his 66th goal of the season, extending his point streak to 12 games (10 goals and 11 assists), putting him just four goals shy of 70 with four games to go in the season. Although it took him toward the end of the second period to find the scoresheet, Matthews picked up his 31st multi-point game of the season with an assist to go along with his goal.
After being called out by their head coach after the first meeting against the Devils two weeks ago, last night was a much better all-around effort from this group, and everybody looked solid. According to Moneypuck.com, every line of the Maple Leafs at five-on-five won their matchups against the Devils and generated an xGF% north of 50%.
The top line, in particular, looked good again. They outscored the opposition 2-1, outshot them 9-3, won the shot attempt battle 16-9, and generated an xGF% of 54.2% in 11:34 of ice time.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game on Thursday night when they return home for the final two games in Toronto this regular season when they host the New Jersey Devils. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.
(Stats from hockey-reference.com)

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