NEWARK, N.J. â€” What was supposed to be a rebuilding season for youthful Toronto could turn into a playoff appearance.
Nazem Kadri sparked Toronto’s four-goal first period with a power-play score, and the Maple Leafs beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Friday night for their sixth win in seven games.
The victory gave Toronto 44 points for the season, moving it into third place in the Atlantic Division, a playoff spot.
“We’re not even 40 games into the season and there is a lot of hockey still to be played,” said James van Riemsdyk, who added two assists. “We’re excited about that and to see what we can do. We have to embrace that and have a good one tomorrow.”
Kadri and Tyler Bozak each had a goal and an assist, Auston Matthews scored his 21st goal and fellow rookie Connor Brown embarrassed Devils goaltender Cory Schneider with a short-handed goal as Toronto bounced back from an overtime loss to Washington.
“I knew going into this season that we would get better and better as it went on,” van Riemsdyk said. “Where that would leave us playoff-wise and points-wise, you never really know. There are lots of unknowns.”
The Maple Leafs, who had blown multiple-goal leads in their last four games, got 30 saves from Frederik Andersen while spoiling the Devils’ celebration of former owner John McMullen, who became the team’s first inductee into its ring of honour at the Prudential Center.
PA Parenteau and Jon Merrill scored in the final 3:24 for New Jersey, which had won three of four.
“We didn’t start on time,” Parenteau said. “You saw it just like us. Four-nothing in the NHL you are not going to come back, once a year maybe, not twice.”
The Devils overcame a 3-0 deficit against Toronto on Nov. 23 and won 5-4 in a shootout.
Kadri, who has five goals in eight games, got his 15th of the season at 9:26, putting the rebound of a van Riemsdyk power-play shot into an open net.
It got much worse for New Jersey less than four minutes later when Brown got his ninth of the year. Devils defenceman Damon Severson played the puck from centre ice back to Schneider, and the goaltender was about to play the puck behind the net when Brown stole it and slid it in as the crowd groaned.
“There is no way to excuse it,” Schneider said . “It was brutal mistake by me to make. I have to be better with it. I can’t give a free goal away like that. It took a little wind out of our sails.”
Matthews stretched the lead to 3-0 at 14:40, putting a loose puck that hit off Zach Hyman into the net.
That was enough for Devils coach John Hynes, who lifted his goaltender after allowing three goals on five shots.
Keith Kinkaid came off the bench and immediately faced a Maple Leafs power play because defenceman Kyle Quincey knocked down Hyman in front of Schneider. Bozak scored 35 seconds later on a rebound, the second shot that Kinkaid faced.
Parenteau scored on a power play with 3:24 to go and Merrill got his first of the season in close with 2:29 left.
Toronto finished with 14 shots, with none in the third period.
NOTES: Devils captain Andy Greene had his consecutive games played streak snapped at 350 games due to an upper-body injury. It dated to 2012. … Brown is the first Maple Leafs rookie to score short-handed since Christian Hanson in April 2010. … Schneider had never lost to the Maple Leafs in regulation (6-1-3). … The three special teams goals tied the season high for Toronto. It had three against Philadelphia on Nov. 11. … McMullen purchased the Colorado Rockies in 1982 and moved the franchise to the Meadowlands, renaming the team the New Jersey Devils after a fan vote. He died in 2005 at the age of 87.
Maple Leafs: Host Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Devils: Host the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
Tom Canavan, The Associated Press