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New Jersey Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur (30) makes a save on a shot from the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in an NHL hockey game at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz) (Rich Schultz/AP)
New Jersey Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur (30) makes a save on a shot from the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in an NHL hockey game at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz) (Rich Schultz/AP)

Leafs attempt to bump slump against red-hot Devils Add to ...

Martin Brodeur chuckled when he was asked if it felt like he was backstopping the New Jersey Devils of old, given his team's current 8-1-1 hot streak.

"Hockey wise, it's a little different than the old days," he said. "But it's been fun. We're having a great second half of the season."

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That they have. If the playoffs started today, the Devils would actually have home-ice advantage in the postseason, as they've gone 22-8-3 since early December.

That's bad news for the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs, who host New Jersey at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night in a game the organization badly needs to win – if not for their confidence, then simply to keep pace with the dawdling playoff pace of late.

Hanging onto eighth place by the thinnest of margins after a 1-5-0 slide, the Leafs could be passed by the Winnipeg Jets should they lose to the Devils.

"We're eight points behind them," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "What we've got to do with the games we have left with them is win both of those games and shorten the gap.

"They're a team that's competing really hard on the puck right now. If you have two guys, they have three; if you have one guy, they have two. It'll be a good game for us to play a game against a team that competes that hard."

The biggest roster news of note is that Toronto will get defenceman Carl Gunnarsson back after three games out of the lineup, and his presence will certainly help given he gets many of the tough defensive assignments.

Gunnarsson's ankle is not 100 per cent, but you can still expect to see him out there against Ilya Kovalchuk, who has been one of the hottest players in the league the past few months and has 18 points in his last 10 games.

In goal, it'll be Brodeur against Jonas Gustavsson, who gets yet another chance to take over the Leafs starting duties for a while.

Gustavsson or Reimer?

For some additional food for thought on the Leafs goalies, here's a quick comparison of their last 20 starts:

James Reimer: 7-8-3, 3.11 GAA and .900 save percentage Jonas Gustavsson: 12-7-1, 2.44 GAA and .919 save percentage

Safe to say they should run with the man known as The Monster for a while?

Brodeur coming back?

As for New Jersey's nearly 40-year-old netminder, he's posted stellar numbers over his team's 10-game hot streak (1.72 goals-against average and .938 save percentage) and doesn't appear to be ready to hang up his skates at the end of the season.

"I'm having a blast right now," Brodeur said. "I just want to continue this year, having fun, and we'll make a decision [on retirement] later on. But it's looking pretty good for me to come back, that's for sure."

Even Wilson admitted he's been impressed with Brodeur's recent resurgence.

"He's been making saves left and right," he said. "That's good to see, that someone who's had a career like that continues to play so well."

Notebook

- Apparently one of the Leafs asked rookie teammate Jake Gardiner if his bags were packed this morning. He seems to take more ribbing than anyone on the team.

- Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek will sit out again, as GM Brian Burke's very expensive free agent additions (a combined $7.5-million a season) have struggled mightily of late.

- Wilson on his team's defensive struggles, something I talked about here on Monday: "We've talked about some things. We've got to get back to playing out speed game. We've been sitting waiting for something bad to happen. We've got to play with speed throughout our whole game."

Projected lineup

Lupul - Bozak - Kessel MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin Lombardi - Connolly - Crabb Brown - Steckel - Boyce

Gunnarsson - Phaneuf Gardiner - Schenn Liles - Franson

Gustavsson

 

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