When Martin Brodeur's NHL career is done and there's a little corner of the Hockey Hall of Fame set up in his honour, it's doubtful many of the 2007-08 Maple Leafs will saunter over to Yonge and Front to pay it heed.
With points for the Leafs taking on a significance of major proportions, Brodeur finally has got the hang of the Toronto club, beating the Leafs last night for the third time this season in a 4-1 New Jersey Devils victory.
Only two NHL teams -- the Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks -- had a winning record against Brodeur when last season ended.
But with a 41-save performance last night at the Air Canada Centre, Brodeur improved his career record against Toronto to 15-14-8. And just to be sure fans in this area are familiar with Brodeur's greatness, the Leafs will face him again on Saturday night at the ACC, giving the 35-year-old another chance to help nail shut this dismal campaign.
"I don't think there is a change in your offensive game that beats him," Leafs coach Paul Maurice said. "Certainly we don't want to start passing the puck more in the offensive zone. There are no tap-in goals against that team. They do a good job of clearing rebounds, and the ones they can't, he stops again."
The Leafs were giving the Devils some mild headaches until the visitors scored twice in less than two minutes halfway through the third period.
Toronto, with 68 points, failed to gain ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race, remaining six points behind the eighth-place Philadelphia Flyers, who lost to the Buffalo Sabres last night.
Nik Antropov, with his 24th goal, scored for the Leafs, who had won four of their previous five. Vesa Toskala, in his 19th consecutive start, made 21 saves. Other than Antropov's goal, about the biggest rise for the announced crowd of 19,507 came in the first period when Darcy Tucker hammered Jamie Langenbrunner against the boards at the penalty box.
Zach Parise, with two, Brian Gionta and Mimico native David Clarkson scored for the Devils.
The Leafs knew what they were going to get from Brodeur and his teammates but they had no capability of getting around it.
By the time Antropov scored at 16:47 of the second period, the Devils had a 2-0 lead and there was no sense that a comeback was in the offing. Brodeur, who earlier made big saves on slapshots by Anton Stralman and Ian White, made a diving stop on Kyle Wellwood not long before Clarkson converted a pass from John Madden and beat Toskala to put the Devils up 3-1 at 9:21 of the third.
"Marty was able to stop a few and that was the difference," Wellwood said. "Myself and a few other guys had prime chances to score and when we didn't, and they got their third goal, it made things a lot tougher."
The Leafs, who are in Boston tomorrow night to meet the Bruins, have 14 games remaining and might be able to lose a couple and still make the playoffs. So, no, there is not much reason to keep playing other than that the schedule calls for them to keep coming out. The Toronto players claimed not to be watching the scoreboard but it could have given them a break from the boredom that is partnered with playing the ultra-patient Devils.
"Honestly, we did not really know what was going on," Matt Stajan said. "We have to look at a missed opportunity here. It could have been a four-point swing. We can't let this get us down."