Cujo and Clark lead Leafs in lacklustre opener
Now we know why they call it swamp hockey. Skating as if mired in Meadowlands muck, the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the New Jersey Devils, 2-1 in Game 1 at the Air Canada Centre.
The win gives the Leafs a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final.
Dmitry Yushkevich and Darcy Tucker tallied for Toronto, while Petr Sykora replied for New Jersey, which outshot the Leafs, 33-21.
Though a refined version of the neutral-zone trap, the Devils' preferred style of play remains as dull as ever.
Dull, but effective, as they lulled the normally up-tempo Leafs into playing at a lethargic pace throughout.
"We found a way to win," Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph said. "You've got to take anything you can get this time of the year. We'll take the first one."
The highly-anticipated goaltending duel between Joseph and Martin Brodeur lived up to advance billing almost immediately.
New Jersey outshot Toronto 7-0 to open the game and 11-6 in the first period, but an acrobatic Joseph -- plus a goalpost -- kept it scoreless.
"We had a number of great opportunities, and just didn't put them away," Devils coach Larry Robinson said. "That was the big difference."
With the Devils on the powerplay, Petr Sykora's point shot rang off the left goalpost behind Joseph, who was screened by Jason Arnott.
"That was just unlucky not to go in," Sykora said. "But we shouldn't worry about that, because we played a strong game. We'll just stick to our game plan, and we'll be fine."
As for the Leafs, they have now failed to score in seven straight opening periods in these playoffs.
Their best chance to snap that streak came when Brodeur dove to his right to deny Dmitri Khristich on a powerplay.
It wasn't until 1:07 of the second that Toronto opened the scoring, on a slapshot by Yushkevich that deflected off the glove of Sergei Nemchinov and dipped through the pads of Brodeur.
"We don't want to give up the first goal, but we've been notorious for doing that in the playoffs," Robinson said.
The Devils nearly tied it off the ensuing faceoff, when Patrik Elias flipped a rebound off the right goalpost.
Elias later earned the assist on Sykora's goal, a bullet that beat Joseph on the blocker side at the 5:54 mark.
Toronto took a 2-1 lead at 1.18 of the third, when Tucker gloved a high pass from Wendel Clark and shovelled a backhander by Brodeur.
Clark was one of the few players to find some skating room, and later inspired a 1:30 standing ovation from the sellout crowd for a thrilling end-to-end rush that ended with a quick snapshot off the left goalpost.
"I was swearing at myself for not scoring. I had a great chance to put it in the net," Clark said. "It's great when the crowd gets behind your team like that."
With less than three minutes remaining, Clark sent Tucker in-alone on Brodeur, who made a pad save.
"Our line is a hard-work line," Tucker said. "Each guy brings something different. Clarkie is a shooter, I'm a crasher, and Khristich is a great playmaker."
The Leafs also sat Adam Mair and inserted Alyn McCauley into the lineup.
McCauley, a Devils draftee who was traded to Toronto in the Doug Gilmour deal, played a regular shift on the fourth line with Kevyn Adams and Tie Domi.
For the Devils, it was their first defeat of the post-season after a four-game sweep of Florida.
"It's frustrating not to win, but both teams played well. That's playoff hockey," Devils captain Scott Stevens said.
The Leafs remain unbeaten at home, but have been outshot in all five of their playoff victories so far.
"New Jersey had a lot of scoring chances," Clark said. "It could easily have gone the other way. We got away with that one. Hopefully, we can get better as this goes on."
Game 2 goes Saturday night in Toronto (7 p.m., EDT, CBC).