Toronto Maple Leafs Mrazek solid in backstopping Leafs to victory against the New Jersey Devils
By Neil Becker
It’s been quite the emotional rollercoaster ride for Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Petr Mrazek. Mrazek, who last July as an unrestricted free agent signed a three-year deal, has struggled with the Leafs. The low point came on Monday, March 20th, when the Leafs put a couple of players including the veteran goaltender on waivers. No one claimed Mrazek, which means he now gets a chance to turn things around.
Showing strong character Mrazek took that first step towards redemption by making a bold statement to Leafs fans and management alike on Wednesday night when he stopped 20 shots at Scotiabank Arena during a crucial 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils. With the win, Toronto has leapfrogged the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division.
This victory was also extra-special because it marks the 15th time in franchise history that the Leafs have hit that magical 40- win plateau.
In what was the first Leafs game since the March 20th trade deadline, they had new acquisitions in left-winger Colin Blackwell and veteran defenceman Mark Giordano in the lineup.
Both these players were acquired from the expansion Seattle Kraken. This season, Blackwell had totaled 8 goals and 17 upon being acquired while Giordano had also shown some offensive flair in scoring 8 goals and 17 points. However, this veteran defenceman was a -23.
Both had solid Leafs debuts as Blackwell had 2 shots on goal, along with 4 hits but was a -1.
Meanwhile Giordano logged 18:59 of ice time and registered three hits while providing veteran leadership on the blue line.
Playing in what was being advertised as the NextGen game, the Leafs competed in the team’s NextGen uniforms, with Canadian entertainer Justin Bieber having a hand in the design.
The Devils, who were looking to build off a 7-4 win less than 24 hours earlier against the New York Rangers, grabbed some momentum when Damon Severson on the Power Play opened the scoring with his ninth goal which gave them a 1-0 lead.
Toronto once again proved to be lethal on the penalty kill. On this night another highlight were the two short-handed goals they scored against the Devils which improved their season total to a league-best 10.
The Leafs, who were looking to rebound after Saturday night’s road loss against the Nashville Predators, scored their first shorthanded goal of the night. It came when forward Ilya Mikheyev scored his 13th which came with seven and a half minutes remaining in the second.
Mikheyev, who is in his third year with the Leafs showed tremendous speed as he skated around Devils defenceman P.K. Subban before eventually scoring that tying goal.
Things didn’t stay tied for long as New Jersey once again took the lead as young promising forward Nico Hischier banged home a rebound for his 18th goal which with a little over six minutes remaining had them enjoying a 2-1 lead.
That lead proved to be temporary as Leafs star forward Mitch Marner showed that strong chemistry he has with Auston Matthews. Marner, with a little over five minutes remaining in the second, showcased his skills as he perfectly one-timed a Matthews pass for his 27th goal to make it a brand new game heading to the third.
That second shorthanded goal, which as mentioned was the Leafs league-leading 10th of the season, happened to be the eventual game winner. It didn’t come until 15:28 of the third off when forward Pierre Engvall got the arena rocking when he celebrated his 11th of the season.
The Leafs will have time to rest as they won’t see action until Saturday, March 26th when they are at the Bell Centre for a 7 p.m. faceoff against the Montreal Canadiens.
1ST. Period NJ-TOR
2ND. Period NJ-TOR
5:03 PPG- Damon Severson (9) 1 – 0
Jesper Bratt (42), Nico Hischier (28)
12:30 SHG-IIya Mikheyev (13) 1 – 1
Alexander Kerfoot (35)
13:56 Nico Hischier (18) 2 – 1
Jack Hughes (29), Dougie Hamilton (18)
14:54 Mitch Marner (27) 2 – 2
Auston Matthews (34). Michael Bunting (29)
3rd Period NJ – TOR
15:18 SHG- Pierre Engvall 2 – 3