Some positive signs in close loss

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

NEWARK -- For the New Jersey Devils, yesterday's ill-timed game played second fiddle to the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers NFC championship match, part of the reason the Prudential Center was just half to two-thirds full of people with one eye on the televisions in the corridor.

But it was another nailbiter for the Maple Leafs, in dire straits for a playoff spot, trying to match a season-high four wins and almost rallying for a three-goal comeback against a team which rarely folds at home.

"We played one of the best teams in our conference and in the third period, we dominated," captain Mats Sundin said. "I see at least some sign of a system."

Toronto has used four regular forward lines in the past five games and a couple have found the elusive chemistry.

Even the recently non-productive Darcy Tucker has had a spring in his step, scoring his sixth of the year yesterday, while Jiri Tlusty supplied the assist, the rookie's first in two months. That's a good sign for Tlusty with Darryl Boyce now on the roster from the Marlies.

General manager John Ferguson, mum on all topics the past few days, still has not commented on where Boyce fits in, with both John Pohl and Wade Belak healthy.

Goaltender Andrew Raycroft made it through a first period without being scored upon for just the second time this season and was 2:32 away from a 40-minute shutout when his luck ran out. He gave up a fat rebound that Travis Zajac buried.

Defencman Hal Gill's ill-timed pinch in the last minute allowed East York's John Madden to make it a two-goal lead, a puck that bounced off a sliding Ian White.

"You could make that play 500 times and chances are it wouldn't hit him in the ass," Raycroft said. "It was good to get back out there fairly soon (after a Jan. 10 disaster in Los Angeles). But what I have to catch is a couple of breaks."

Defenceman Pavel Kubina, who had another stick break at a bad moment and made some mental blunders, atoned with a solo sweep around the Devils goal, beating Martin Brodeur on the short side to make it 3-2.

The Leafs' top line of Sundin, Nik Antropov and Alex Steen pressed to the end, Steen getting off a shot with Raycroft on the bench that almost found a hole on Brodeur.


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