New Jersey Clinches Playoff Berth with 2-1 Victory over Maple Leafs
New Jersey (2) Toronto (1) Final
Thursday, April 5, 2018
Thursday night marked the second last game of the regular season for many teams across the National Hockey League, including both Toronto and New Jersey who would face-off in a tight-knit affair.
It proved to be an important game for New Jersey, who had an opportunity to punch their ticket to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The combination of a Florida Panthers loss and a Devils win, would be enough to clinch a Wild Card spot in the East—their first post-season berth since losing to Los Angeles in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
Corey Schneider has fallen out of favour in New Jersey and hasn’t won a game since December 27th, subsequently, Keith Kinkaid received the nod in between the pipes.
Mike Babcock made it known last week that Frederik Andersen would start in the final two games of the season.
As the action got underway, it was William Nylander who continued his hot-streak and broke the ice to give Toronto a 1-0 advantage early on. The puck found its way to Nylander waiting at the face-off circle, where he received a feed from Auston Matthews and went on to beat Kinkaid with a light wrist shot.
He nearly fanned on the shot… Yet, he joins Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in reaching the 60-point mark for a second consecutive season—becoming the first three players in franchise history to record 60-points in each of their first two seasons.
With his 20th goal, Nylander notched his final entry-level bonus totalled at $212,500.
Additionally, it’s the first time the Maple Leafs have boasted six 20-goal scorers since 1998-99–when Sergei Berezen, Mats Sundin, Steve Thomas, Derek King, Steve Sullivan, and Mike Johnson each tallied 20 or more.
The second frame featured a much different atmosphere as the Devils exploded for two unanswered tallies and forced the Maple Leaf back on their heels.
A defensive breakdown saw Patrick Maroon exploit Morgan Rielly to connect with sophomore centreman, Pavel Zacha, who recorded his 8th goal of the campaign shortly after.
Later in the frame, Patrick Maroon led another individual effort before setting up the go-ahead goal.
Maroon protected the puck with poise around the perimeter of Toronto’s zone before fending off several defenders and connecting with Miles Wood in the slot area for an equalizer. All it took was a one-timer to fool Frederik Andersen and send the New Jersey faithful into a cheerful frenzy.
The final twenty minutes of regulation went scoreless despite a late push from the visiting Maple Leafs, including several prime scoring chances in the final minute of play with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker.
When it was all said and done, the Devils walked away with a subtle yet emphatic victory to send their team to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since that dreadful loss 2011-12 Finals—clinching a berth in very similar fashion as the Maple Leafs did last season versus Pittsburgh.
Although it was a narrow defeat, Toronto will have one final opportunity to tune their game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday before the post-season begins on April 11th.
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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs