Lupul Tricks Devils with 3 Goals in 5-3 Leafs Win

Toronto 5               Devils 3

Toronto Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul was a few days late but he enjoyed a bunch of treats as he scored a natural hat trick in the second period of his squad’s 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night at Prudential Center. In 17 previous contests against New Jersey Lupul had managed just four goals, but on this night he notched his third career hat trick; his first since December 12, 2007. “This is a game we really wanted to have,” said Lupul, “we have another road game tomorrow night. We wanted to start this (road trip) off on the right note.”

Martin Brodeur, making his first start in seven games for the Devils, was a bit rusty and the opportunistic Leafs took advantage, never trailing when the game was a back-and-forth contest. “It was a big test for me to go through this game. I felt good later on (in the game), there’s just that kind of spark, knowing I’m able to go full out,” Brodeur said afterwards.

Joey Crabb (who entered the game with seven goals in 77 career games) started the scoring bonanza 8:37 into the match with his first of this season when he whacked the puck out of midair past Brodeur’s stick side. Dainius Zubrus evened the score on the power play less than four minutes later when he punched a rebound past Toronto’s Jonas Gustavsson for his third of the season. Mikhail Grabovski gave Toronto a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission when he converted a diagonal slap-pass from defenseman Jake Gardiner that Brodeur had no chance of stopping.

When Gustavsson took an interference penalty behind his cage early in the second period, the Devils made him pay as Patrik Elias whipped a one-timer past the goalie for his fifth of the season; the power play goal was the 93rd of his career, replacing John MacLean as the franchise’s all-time leader in that category. (elias quote)

Lupul began his dominance three minutes after Elias’ tying goal when he was Johnny-on-the-spot at 6:31– he was wide open in the slot as Mike Komisarek’s rebounded popped off of Brodeur and onto his stick. David Clarkson slipped a backhander past Gustavsson on a breakaway at 8:15 to even the score yet again, but Lupul was just about to seal the deal.

Ninety seconds later he stick-handled around three defenders and snapped a wicked wrist shot past Brodeur’s glove hand for what turned out to be a highlight-reel game-winning goal. Just over three minutes later he completed the trick when Grabovski found him wide open at the side of the net after a crazy sequence that left Brodeur totally out of position.

When asked if the hat trick meant anything more because it was against Brodeur (the league’s all-time leader in wins and shutouts), Lupul wasn’t shy, “It does mean a little bit more,” he explained. “I played a ton against this guy when I was in Philly, it seems like he always had my number. Tonight, the second one was a bit of a lucky one; it’s pretty cool to do it against him.”

Brodeur admitted he was rusty, but was happy this first game back from injury was behind him. “Definitely I would have loved a different result,” he said after surrendering five goals on 23 shots. “I didn’t play well at all. We scored three goals, two on the power play; that should have been enough to at least have a better chance in this game.”

Game Notes: Adam Larsson had his first career point for New Jersey, assisting on Elias’ goal; Brad Mills registered his first career assist on Clarkson’s goal. Phil Kessel (two assists) continues to lead the NHL in scoring with 20 points (10g-10a) in 12 games. Ilya Kovalchuk also assisted on Elias’ goal and has 36 points in 36 career games against the Maple Leafs; he also led all skaters in ice-time with 24:52. Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf led his team in ice-time with 24:44 and all players with four blocked shots. Lupul and Kovalchuk led everyone with five shots on goal each. New Jersey (4-5-1) next plays at Philadelphia (7-4-1) andToronto (8-3-1) will play their next match at Columbus (2-9-1), both games are Thursday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Joffrey Lupul (Tor) – 3 goals, gw (8)

#2 – Mikhail Grabovski (Tor) – goal (5), assist (4)

#3 – Phil Kessel (Tor) – 2 assists (10)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

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Kovalchuk Hits 30 as Devils Top Toronto

Devils 4 Toronto 2

One hundred million dollars can buy you a lot of things; the New Jersey Devils chose to invest their $100 million into Ilya Kovalchuk, one of the NHL’s most lethal goal scorers. In his first full season with the Devils Kovalchuk has disappointed, amazed, awed and disappeared (in that order), but he reached a number of milestones in his team’s 4-2 win over the also-eliminated Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night.

Playing in his 700th NHL game, Kovalchuk scored his 30th goal of the season, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead 13:47 into the game, assuring that he wouldn’t match his career-low in goals for a season; he scored 29 in his rookie season with Atlanta in 2001-02. In the second period he had the primary assist on Mattias Tedenby’s goal at 14:29 (making it 2-0) for the 700th point of his nine-year career.

At 15:34 of the second period, 65 seconds after Tedenby’s tally, New Jersey defenseman Henrik Tallinder made it 3-0 with a blast past Leafs’ goalie James Reimer from the slot. Reimer, who has been splendid for Toronto in his rookie season, had no help really from his teammates through the first two periods was mercifully pulled by coach Ron Wilson to start the third period and the move seemed to spark his sluggish club.

Phil Kessel got the Leafs on the board with his 31st of the season at 6:18 on a power play, whipping a one-timer past Martin Brodeur after collecting a nice centering pass from Joffrey Lupul. Jean-Sebastien Giguere made eleven saves in total during the period for Toronto and Tyler Bozak cut the lead to 3-2 when he scored a 3-on-5 shorthanded goal at 12:42. Devils’ center Travis Zajac kind of won the face-off on the play, but both Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston were unable to corral the puck as Bozak raced past Rolston and roared in on Brodeur. Bozak scored on his backhand, slipping the puck between Brodeur’s stick and right leg pad. “I kind of gave that guy the puck,” admitted Zajac. “It was a bad play by me there; other than that we played pretty good.”

New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire called a timeout and eventually his team settled down for the final 7:18, limiting the Leafs to only seven shots on goal for the whole period and 24 for the game. “I thought we played well (after the shorthanded goal,” said Lemaire. “The guys came back to their game; tried to put pressure on them. We skated, we moved the puck, I thought we did very well.” Patrik Elias scored into an empty net with 9.7 seconds left, giving him 20 goals for the ninth time in his 13 seasons with the Devils.

“It’s been a rough season this year,” said Brodeur after the win, “hopefully we’ll have a great season next year.” Lemaire knows he couldn’t have asked for more down the stretch from his star netminder. “He’s been really good lately; really good. He’s had at least two great months.”

Game Notes: Kessel’s goal extended his point streak to nine games (3g-7a); Elias has a five-game point streak (4g-4a). Devils forward Dainius Zubrus left after a collision along the boards in the first period and did not return. “My head’s okay, I really think I’ll be fine,” said Zubrus in the locker room after the game. “We’ll check it out a little more tomorrow, but everything’s coming back right now so I’ll be okay.” Zach Parise sat out his second straight game after returning from knee surgery on Saturday; the Devils offered no update on his condition or why he was out of the lineup. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 28:42; Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf led his squad with 26:27. Kovalchuk led all players with six shots on goal, while Kessel led the Leafs with five; Tallinder was the only player that was +2.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – goal (30), assist (28)

#2 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – goal (20), assist (41)

#3 – Mattias Tedenby (NJ) – goal (8)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.