NEWARK, N.J. - When he played for the Philadelphia Flyers, Joffrey Lupul never was able to consistently solve Martin Brodeur.
In rapid-fire succession against the future Hall of Fame goaltender, that changed drastically on Wednesday night.
Lupul scored three goals in less than seven minutes in the second period, his natural hat trick propelling the at-times defensively liable Leafs to a 5-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils in a half-empty Prudential Center.
“It does mean a little bit more (because it was Brodeur),” Lupul said. “I played a ton against this guy when I was in Philly and he seemed to always have my number. It’s pretty cool to do it against him.”
The hat trick was the third of Lupul’s NHL career and first since December 2007 when he was with the Flyers. Brodeur was shaky after missing six games because of a shoulder injury, and the Leafs exploited that.
“We talked about it,” Lupul said. “Anyone who is off for three weeks, and you want to test that guy.”
Lupul helped the Leafs get through an eventful middle period that included two Devils goals. Goalie Jonas Gustavsson was sharp after giving up a back-breaking floater against the Ottawa Senators on Sunday, and he had no choice playing behind a defensive group that, as it has before, struggled for stretches.
“It was like you’re in one of those motorcycles and you’re in the side car, and you have no idea which way the car is going,” coach Ron Wilson said, “but you get to your destination at the end of the game.”
Phil Kessel rolled his player-of-the-month honours for October into November, picking up a pair of assists after recording 10 goals and eight assists in 11 games in the first month.
Joey Crabb, in his first game of the season after being recalled from the Toronto Marlies, and Mikhail Grabovski also scored for the Leafs. Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson scored for the Devils.
There was some thought after the morning skate that James Reimer would back up Gustavsson, that didn’t happen. Reimer, out since Oct. 22 because of concussion-like symptoms, did not dress and the Leafs went with Ben Scrivens on the bench.
Wilson said there’s a chance, though, that Reimer will play on Thursday night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.
Lupul’s first goal, at 6:31 of the second period, gave the Leafs a 3-2 lead. A juicy rebound off a shot by Mike Komisarek went directly to Lupul, who easily shot the puck into the open net from the slot.
After Clarkson tied the game, Lupul scored again, this time getting the best of Brodeur with a shot that went in off a Devils stick. The third, to put Toronto up 5-3, came during a scramble when Lupul buried his own rebound.
The hat trick was accomplished in six minutes 42 seconds, but was not close to the Leafs’ team record for fastest three goals by one player. That belongs to Lanny McDonald.
In October 1976 in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers, McDonald and his moustache scored three goals in a span of two minutes 54 seconds in the first period of an eventual 5-5 tie.
Though Luke Schenn had a tough game, and might come out at some point in favour of Cody Franson, the Leafs buckled down in the third period, allowing just five shots.
The Leafs’ mantra of not losing two games in a row, something that was stressed by Wilson during a team meeting, was kept intact.
“It might be a cliché, but it is true,” captain Dion Phaneuf said. “It’s something we stick by. It’s a big reason why we dug a hole last year. We had a slide, and it was tough to come out of.”
Gustavsson’s fingerprints were in the victory. His sliding save on Nick Palmieri helped lead to a goal by Mikhail Grabovski, and earned Gustavsson an assist. In the larger picture, the bad goal against Ottawa did not linger for him mentally.
“I think the win was more important, but it’s always nice to get that,” Gustavsson said of the assist. “You just have to move on, no matter what happens. You have to focus. I liked the way we finished off in the third period. The guys did a good job.”