William Nylander's OT winner worth the wait for Leafs
Beats Devils with 2.2 seconds remaining for only goal of the game
Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock had a simple message for William Nylander after he ended a goal slump with the winner on Thursday.
Nylander struck with 2.2 seconds to play in overtime and Frederik Andersen made 42 saves as the Maple Leafs blanked the New Jersey Devils 1-0 for their fifth straight win.
"I told him to go thank Freddie because he's never scored," said Babcock. "[Nylander] needed to score a goal, right? He hasn't scored in a while."
Moments before Nylander scored the game's only goal, Andersen made one of his biggest saves of the night to bail out the 21-year-old Swede after a giveaway.
"He missed his guy and his guy was in home free," said Babcock. "Those things happen, that's why you pay the goalie and it was a big save."
Nylander went 11 games between goals before scoring his fourth of the season and first since Oct. 21. He was fortunate to be on the ice when he scored after taking a longer than average shift.
"I was pretty tired," said Nylander. "We'd gone back and forth a few times. Low energy. I couldn't go back the other way after that."
Babcock said he could sense Nylander's goal drought was starting to weigh on him.
"When you haven't scored in a while as a young guy you start thinking too much instead of playing and working," said Babcock.
"They want to score every night and if you're a point-getter you think you should be doing that every night."
Nylander, who has 14 points in 20 games, has tried to stay optimistic despite his slump over the past three weeks and Corey Schneider stopping him three times earlier in the game.
"I had a couple chances in regulation too, a little rattling with them not going in," said Nylander.
"[But] you just have to look at the fact you're creating chances most of the nights, that's what's most important."
Schneider stopped 24 shots for the Devils (11-4-3).
"Obviously you enjoy a good goalie battle, especially when you come out on top," said Andersen. "(Schneider) was playing well too so we knew it was going to be close."
Leafs centre Auston Matthews was on the ice for optional morning skate but sat out his fourth straight game with an upper-body injury.
Thursday's meeting looked like two different teams compared to when these two clubs met in October, a 6-3 New Jersey win that included a 47-save performance from Schneider.
Miles Wood had the game's first scoring chance as he got in alone on Andersen 6:37 into the opening period, only to be turned away by the Danish goaltender.
The Leafs nearly scored midway through the first on the man advantage, but Schneider came up big twice.
First he stretched out to rob James van Riemsdyk with his right arm along the ice on the goal-line with the net wide open, then he came across the crease to stop Patrick Marleau on a one-timer set up by Nylander.
"He's one of the best goaltenders when it comes to reading a play," said van Riemsdyk.
A couple big stops from Andersen and a few missed nets by the Devils on a power play saved Connor Brown from the doghouse after he flipped the puck over the glass trying to clear his zone midway through the second period.
'Boring for the fans'
New Jersey's power play kept Toronto hemmed in its own zone for well over a minute but couldn't take the lead.
Toronto's offence was absent for 16-plus minutes in the second until van Riemsdyk was turned away on the Leafs' best scoring chance of the period, choosing to keep the puck and shoot on a 2-on-1 with Mitch Marner.
Both teams seemed to shut it down in the third period, with scoring chances drying up before heading to overtime.
"Wasn't a lot of room for anybody, tight-checking game, probably boring for the fans, but kind of what I expected," said Babcock.
The next game for both teams is Saturday. The Leafs are in Montreal to face the Canadiens. The Devils are in Winnipeg against the Jets.