Matchup: The Devils roll into Toronto tonight to take on the 8th place Maple Leafs. The Devils are coming off a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, which brough NJ’s current winning streak to 3 straight games. The Devils are also 8-1-1 over their last 10 games. The Leafs are coming off of a 6-2 loss in Vancouver and haven’t been playing the best hockey as of late. Toronto is 4-5-1 in their last 10 and currently in a battle with Winnipeg and Washington for the 8th and final playoff spot. This is the third meeting between the Leafs and the Devils with each taking a game on the other's ice.
Keys to the Game: Don’t let the Leafs current position in the standings fool you, they actually do have a lot of fire power and the ability to score goals so NJ will need to play a smart defensive game tonight. Phil Kessel leads the team with 30 goals, which happens to be 3rd best league wide in that category and Joffrey Lupal is another scoring threat with 23 goals. The Devils have issues on their blue line because of injuries so defense will need to be a team effort. Marty is in net and been playing some outstanding hockey as of late, which he will need to do again tonight.
Offensively, the Devils will keep looking to Kovalchuk, Parise, Clarkson and Elias for some scoring. I believe the real key to winning tonight is keeping the Leafs top two players quiet and finding a way to put 2 pucks past Gustavsson. Yes, I believe 2 goals is enough to skate past the Maple Leafs tonight.
Injuries: According to head coach Peter DeBoer, we should expect to see Anton Volchenkov in the lineup tonight but is still considered questionable. Also on the questionable list is Kurtis Foster (stiff back). The Devils blue line is still taking a hit with Henrik Tallinder (blood clot) and Adam Larsson (bruised back) on the injured list. Toronto's lone injured-reserve denizen, Carl Gunnarson, has missed three games with an ankle injury, but is expected to play according to coach Ron Wilson. Joffrey Lupul missed practice Monday, but he, too, is expected to be in the lineup.
Players To Watch:
I’ve got my eye on Phil Kessel. He’s been very quiet in the goal scoring department lately and for the Leafs to find some success, I believe he needs to start pumping in some goals to go along with his assists. The Leafs started out the season on a tear and Kessel’s ability to score lots of goals back then was a key part to their success.
There have been a number of Devils that have been playing outstanding hockey recently but if NJ is going to continue to hold on to the 4th spot in the east (barring injury, I think the Rangers too far out of reach for us), then Marty is going to have to continue to play spectacular hockey. While he’s not the 35-30 year old version of Marty Brodeur, he has been coming up big lately. With guys like Kessel, Lupal and Grabovski, he will need to again tonight.
Trip Down Memory Lane:
It was just over two years ago. The Leafs were in town and Ilya Kovalchuk was making his Devils debut. Down 3-1 with just 3 minutes to go, the Devils do all the right things and knock off the Leafs 4-3 in regulation. This is definitely one of my favorite moments in recent years.