TORONTO (AP) – With a successful start behind him, Jonas Gustavsson wasted no time looking ahead to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game.
The Swedish goalie filled in admirably for the injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere on Thursday night, stopping 29 shots in a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. The Maple Leafs will be relying heavily on Gustavsson over the next week or two while Giguere recovers from a groin strain.
The atmosphere at Air Canada Centre was relatively dull with two of the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams facing each other. But Gustavsson was looking forward to a livelier evening with Toronto set to pay a visit to Montreal on Saturday night.
“It’s awesome, you want to play those games when the crowd is going nuts and it’s really loud,” Gustavsson said. “Games with a big rival are always fun to play because you really want to win those games. That’s a game I’m really looking forward to.”
The game against New Jersey seemed quickly forgotten. Toronto put in a solid effort and came away with a second straight victory after enduring an ugly eight-game winless slide.
“We lost quite a bit in a row and now we’ve won two,” Leafs forward Phil Kesse said. “Hopefully, we can get a couple more.”
Kessel, Mikhail Grabovski and Kris Versteeg scored to help Toronto improve to 7-8-3. Nazem Kadri added two assists and looked comfortable on the top line with Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
“Right now I’m feeling good, I’m playing good, and our team is playing exceptionally well too,” Kadri said.
Dainius Zubrus scored for the struggling Devils (5-12-2).
The mounting problems for New Jersey appear to be getting even bigger. Already hampered by injuries, goaltender Martin Brodeur had to be replaced by Johan Hedberg after two periods because he experienced a recurrence of an injury to his right elbow.
“More cautionary than anything to make sure he’s fine,” Devils coach John MacLean said. “We’ll evaluate him tomorrow.”
Tension is clearly mounting around the Devils, who sit 14th in the Eastern Conference. The players held a lengthy closed-door meeting after the game.
“It’s tough to win hockey games when you don’t score goals,” Devils forward Adam Mair said. “We’ve been shut out now three times in are last six games and we only got one tonight, so we’ve got to find a way to generate more offense.”
Versteeg iced the game for Toronto with his third goal in two games — all while manning the point on the power play. He hammered a nice pass from Kadri behind Hedberg with less than 7 minutes to play.
The forward is starting to feel more comfortable playing the point, something he used to watch former teammate Patrick Sharp do in Chicago.
“I’ve kind of always watched (Sharp) from the bench when he was playing,” Versteeg said. “Just the smart, simple plays he would make. … There’s still a lot of learning for me to do.”
Toronto’s suddenly scorching power play has connected on six of its 11 opportunities.
Grabovski’s goal to open the scoring also came with the man advantage. Brodeur let out a large rebound and the Belarusian centre fired home his fifth goal in six games at 1:42 of the second period.
“I’ve had a lot of chances against (Brodeur) and I didn’t score,” Grabovski said. “Right now I’m very happy.”
Kessel made it 2-0 after being thwarted on a couple good opportunities earlier in the game. Standing alone at the side of the goal, he took a nice pass from Kadri and beat Brodeur at 6:29.
The Devils narrowed the lead before the end of the period. Zubrus had Alexander Vasyunov’s shot go off his skate and through Gustavsson’s legs at 10:14.
But the Swede stood tall with New Jersey pressuring late in the game.
“He played really well,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “Bad luck the way the puck deflected and trickled through his legs on the goal. He made a lot of saves and used his size well on shots that he could see.”
NOTES: Carl Gunnarsson was back in the Leafs’ lineup, replacing Brett Lebda on the blue line. … Stephen Gionta played his fifth career game for the Devils. His brother, Brian, is captain of the Montreal Canadiens.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)