It is one of the mysteries of the late-season NHL, where some teams are preparing for a deep playoff run and others are looking much further ahead.
One night, the New Jersey Devils look unbeatable in an easy 5-2 win over the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
The next night, against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Devils were all out to salvage a point from the Maple Leafs.
That’s all they would get, however, as the Leafs scored a 2-1 shootout win to cap a generally dull but certainly hard-fought contest at the Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs went 3-for-3 in the shootout with Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell all beating Devils backup Yann Danis while only Zach Parise could solve J-S Giguere.
With another decent effort that has been typical of their performance the past two weeks, the Leafs have now recorded at least a point in seven of their past nine games in a nice, if meaningless run to finish out the season.
Better yet, with the victory, the Leafs now have won five of their past six in a spirited late-season run that ultimately won’t mean much other than some promise for next season and perhaps to keep that top pick away from the Boston Bruins.
As you might expect against what is generally a tight-checking road team playing its second game in as many nights, this wasn’t exactly thick in entertainment or excitement.
For the second time in as many games here, Devils coach Jacques Lemaire opted to let Martin Brodeur rest and give Danis the start. The Leafs didn’t exactly jump on the backup early, waiting more than seven minutes to get their first shot on net.
Kessel opened the scoring 18:54 into it, one of the few live moments of a sleepy opening period. After Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf snuck in from the point, Danis let out a gift-wrapped rebound that Kessel easily buried.
The Leafs played sound enough hockey, for the most part, killing off a pair of penalties midway through the second period, but then started to get sloppy in their own end.
They paid for it as well when the Devils evened it up at the 15:46 mark of the middle period when David Clarkson beat Giguere with a sharp shot from deep in the slot. The goal snapped Giguere’s nice shutout streak over the Devils at 95 minutes and 46 seconds.
Giguere had shut out the Devils 3-0 in his Leafs debut back on Feb. 2. The goal was Toronto native Clarkson’s fifth goal in his past 10 games against the Leafs.
Both teams had big chances to win it late. First, Kessel had Danis beaten but couldn’t deflect it into the empty net. Then on the power play with just over three minutes remaining, Devils defenceman Paul Martin missed an open net behind Giguere.
Then with 1:55 remaining, Parise had an open net, only to be robbed at the last second by the stick and blocker of Giguere.
With that penalty, the Devils were a shoddy 0-for-4 on the power play.
The Leafs went to the power play for the final two minutes of the game but couldn’t beat Danis, who looked like anything but a backup through most of the contest.
The Devils entered the contest winning just one of their previous 10 games away from their Newark, N.J., home.