Maple Leafs lose fifth in a row, falling to Devils

Damien Brunner of the New Jersey Devils and Troy Bodie of the Toronto Maple Leafs battle for the...

Damien Brunner of the New Jersey Devils and Troy Bodie of the Toronto Maple Leafs battle for the puck during the second period at the Prudential Center on March 23, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Adam Hunger/Getty Images/AFP)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 PM ET

If only the Maple Leafs could get points for saying the right things.

Could you imagine? They would have a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference sewn up.

But the Leafs are incapable of putting theory into practice, and as such, have just about fallen out of a playoff spot.

For the first time since October 2009, the Leafs have lost five games in a row in regulation, the latest setback coming against the New Jersey Devils by a score of 3-2 on Sunday night.

How often does a team in a playoff position appear to be playing out the string with three weeks left in the regular season? That’s how the Leafs looked before an announced crowd of 15,328 at the Prudential Center.

The Leafs had 23 shots against a non-playoff club. They played with precious little tenacity against a club that had been shut out twice in its previous four games and had won one of five.

“We all knew this was coming,” Nazem Kadri said before the game. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight to get into the playoffs, going to be tight, come down to the last game. That should not surprise anyone. As long as we bring our A-game for the next 10 games, get to where we want to be heading into the playoffs, we should be okay.”

That was said with a straight face.

Not even a Columbus Blue Jackets loss against the New York Islanders in the afternoon, which helped the Leafs in the standings, served as inspiration. The Leafs were one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, who had the second and final wild-card spot, heading into the evening.

Goalie James Reimer was gone after allowing three goals on 10 shots, giving way to Drew MacIntyre, who made his Leafs debut.

MacIntyre was off the ice in favour of an extra attacker when Phil Kessel scored with 91 seconds remaining.

It was just the fifth appearance in the NHL for MacIntyre, who has never started a game in the best hockey league on the planet but played in two for the Buffalo Sabres and two for the Vancouver Canucks. The 30-year-old had not faced an NHL shot since Nov. 25, 2011, when he was with the Sabres.

But let’s get back to Reimer. His shaky play and subsequent pulling led some to speculate on social media whether it was the last Leafs game for Reimer, who is headed for restricted free agency this summer and is expected to ask for a trade.

Question is, what team out there would want a guy who can’t stop much of anything?

Reimer can’t bail his teammates out. They make terrible mistakes and decisions in front of him. What a wonderful combination.

Damien Brunner scored a weak goal at 14:38 of the first period, beating Reimer on the goalie’s glove side on a 2-on-1 rush. The Devils met absolutely no resistance moving the puck up the ice, and as Morgan Rielly raced to get in the play, Brunner got his 11th.

It was the seventh game in a row the Leafs fell behind 1-0.

The Devils ended Reimer’s night not long after the Zamboni doors closed at the end of the second intermission.

Patrik Elias scored on a backhand deke after he was sprung by Jon Merrill, who took advantage of the Leafs’ willingness to stand and watch.

At 1:50, just 32 seconds after Elias scored, Merrill got one himself, beating Reimer with a knuckler slapshot. Reimer was done.

The Leafs got one back at 5:26 of the second when Tyler Bozak re-directed a smart Rielly pass during a Toronto power play past Cory Schneider.

But anything approaching momentum for the visitors absorbed a big shot when Kadri took a dumb penalty with 59 seconds remaining in the middle period. Kadri had plenty of time to hold up, but instead rammed Peter Harrold and got a boarding minor.

Before that, the Leafs failed to score despite having a two-man advantage for one minute 16 seconds. Cody Franson and Dion Phaneuf registered shots on goal, but there was no desire to get traffic in front of Schneider.

We should mention that David Clarkson played in New Jersey for the first time since leaving the Devils last summer to sign a giant contract with the Leafs. Clarkson was booed when he touched the puck, but he was a non-factor. You probably already knew that.

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca


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