Maple Leafs knock off Devils in shootout

Jonathan Bernier of the Toronto Maple Leafs makes a save against the New Jersey Devils at the Air...

Jonathan Bernier of the Toronto Maple Leafs makes a save against the New Jersey Devils at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto Friday November 8, 2013. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:18 PM ET

In the end, it didn’t matter what position James van Riemsdyk played.

Because in a shootout, the fact that you are a centre or a winger simply is irrelevant.

And on this, van Riemsdyk’s first evening as Toronto’s first-line centre, it was his winning goal in the shootout that gave the Leafs a 2-1 win over the visiting New Jersey Devils.

In the process, less than 24 hours before they return to the scene of their ill-fated Causeway St. Collapse last May against the Boston Bruins, it was Leaf fans who were singing “Thank You Kessel” on Friday night.

While linemate van Riemsdyk was the hero, it was Phil Kessel who was voted the player of the game, thanks to one of his patented “Phil The Thrill moments” that pulls butts out of the seats,

Kessel’s spectacular goal at 8:12 of the third period temporarily gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead and had the Air Canada Centre buzzing during the annual Hall of Fame game.

In a close-checking affair that must have reminded new Hall of Fame inductee Scott Niedermayer of those low-scoring Leafs-Devils games of a decade ago, the two teams were held off the board until the third period.

After Kessel finally put the Leafs ahead with Toronto’s first goal in almost six periods, a Jonathan Bernier faux pas allowed the Devils to tie the game 1-1 with just 4:45 remaining in regulation.

When Michael Ryder directed a relatively soft shot at the Leaf net, Bernier deflected the puck into the air and over his own shoulder to draw the Devils even. An irked Bernier immediately dropped his stick in disgust once he realized what had happened.

To be fair, Bernier made a number of highlight-reel saves over the course of the game.

Cue van Riemsdyk’s heroics.

Afterward, the Maple Leafs headed to the scene of the crime Saturday, sporting van Riemsdyk at centre, Mark Fraser back in the lineup and, whether they admit it or not, seeking a semblance of revenge for their epic collapse last May.

Heading to Boston where they’ll meet the Bruins for the first time at the TD Garden since blowing a 4-1 third-period lead en route to a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 7 of their first-round series, the Leafs will be greeted by a juiced-up throng at the “Gah-den.”

The Bruins know the Leafs will be motivated and are preparing for an amped-up Toronto team.

“We’re expecting them to definitely have some extra jump for us and we need to make sure we’re ready for that,” Patrice Bergeron, the man who scored the OT winner for the Bruins six months ago, told reporters in the Boston area on Friday.

Fraser’s return to the lineup was a welcome addition to a Leafs team that had been missing some muscle on the back end, especially when it came to clearing out opposing forwards who have been taking more and more liberties in front of goalies James Reimer and Bernier. Fraser had been out since Oct. 5 with a knee injury.

While Fraser wasn’t on hand for that Game 7 loss against Boston, he, too, has some bitter memories of that series. It was in Game 4 that the rugged blueliner was smacked in the forehead with a shot, causing him to immediately undergo surgery to repair a fracture between the eyes.

Van Riemsdyk, meanwhile, has been forced to play in the middle instead of his normal position on the wing after injuries to Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland left the Leafs thin at centre. Bozak is on IR with a hamstring ailment while Bolland had a tendon severed in the left ankle area by the skate of Vancouver’s Zack Kassian last Saturday.

While there were some growing pains in his game, van Riemsdyk still exhibited some nice on-ice chemistry with Kessel. Don’t be surprised if these two find themselves as linemates on Team USA at the Sochi Olympics.

“I thought he did fine,” coach Randy Carlyle said of JVR. “He just needs to learn to keep his feet moving in the defensive zone.”

The game featured a matchup between Bernier and Cory Schneider, the two goaltending prizes on the trade market this past off-season.

Bernier was the first to change addresses, heading to the Leafs in a June 23 deal that sent Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens and a second rounder to the Los Angeles Kings. Exactly one week later, the Devils acquired Schneider from the Canucks for the ninth overall pick during the 2013 entry draft at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Both were outstanding through the first two periods, combining to stop every shot that was fired their way.

The next stop will be a date with the Bruins. And, in the opinion of Bergeron, whose Bruins belched up a 3-0 series lead to lose the 2010 Eastern Conference final to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Leafs can use the setback in a positive manner.

“Learn from it,” Bergeron said. “Understand that you can’t make it up in one game.”

That won’t stop Kessel and Co. from trying, however.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @Zeisberger


Videos

Photos