The Toronto Maple Leafs have had their way with the New Jersey Devils in recent years.
Mostly, they’ve won with talent. Auston Matthews and company did it with grit on Tuesday night to finish off a tough five-game trip.
Matthews scored on a power play with 2:53 remaining and the Maple Leafs tallied twice in the final five minutes to beat the Devils 4-3 behind a 30-save performance by Ilya Samsonov.
“Even when they got the lead there later in the third, just battling and staying with it, some big saves by Sammy and I thought our D made some big plays, especially at the end with the 6-on-5 there,” Matthews said. “It was one of those games you just kind of have to grind out and that’s what we did.”
Michael Bunting tied the game with 4:50 to play, and Calle Jarnkrok and Mitch Marner also scored for the Leafs, who played without captain John Tavares and Ryan O’Reilly. Toronto went 3-2 on its trip, which included four games out West before a long flight to New Jersey.
“I like how we came out and really kind of took over the game in the second period and then also kind of back and forth through the third,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “The fact that our guys stuck with it with some key plays, clutch plays at key times. Really great. Great way to finish the trip.”
Erik Haula had two goals and an assist and a stitched-up Ondrej Palat had a goal and two assists for New Jersey, which is now 17-4-3 since Jan. 7. Vitek Vanecek had 21 saves for the Devils.
“I think we were sloppy defensively,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “You can look at the power-play goal as just a total missed assignment on our part, two guys on one side. The tying goal, two missed assignments.”
Matthews, who had not scored in the past three games, got his 29th of the season on William Nylander’s second nice setup of the game. It came a minute after Timo Meier was sent off for high-sticking.
Meier said he needs to keep his stick down in that situation.
“It’s just kind of how it goes tonight,” Meier said. “I will start learning from it. And it’s going to motivate me to get better and make sure this is not going to happen again.”
The Maple Leafs, who are 9-0-2 in their last 11 with New Jersey, twice took the lead only to see the Devils tie it.
Jarnkrok gave Toronto its first lead at 7:30 into the second period, tapping in a cross-ice pass by Nylander.
Haula tied the game with 3:03 left in the period, beating Samsonov in close after Marner failed to clear a loose puck in front of the crease.
Marner redeemed himself 4:57 into the third period with a short-handed goal. He stole the puck from Meier in centre ice and beat Vanecek in close after a deke.
Palat, who needed stitches to his upper lip area after a high stick to face, tied the game a little more than a minute later, putting in his own rebound on the power play.
Three minutes later, Haula put New Jersey ahead 3-2 with a deflection in front. Bunting then put a rebound into an open net to tie the game with 4:50 left. It was his 20th goal.
Recently acquired Leafs C Ryan O’Reilly had surgery to repair a broken finger on his left hand, coach Sheldon Keefe said. He is expected to be out four weeks ... C John Tavares did not make the trip ... C Pontus Holmberg and RW Alex Steeves skated on the fourth line a day after being recalled from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL ... Devils LW Yegor Sharangovich and D Brandon Smith were healthy scratches.
Maple Leafs: Host Edmonton on Saturday.
Devils: At Washington on Thursday.