Joffrey Lupul says Martin Brodeur has always had his number but this time he and the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs thought the New Jersey Devils goaltender could be had.
At 39 years of age, Brodeur is finding that injuries are catching up to him and his latest one, a shoulder problem, kept him on the sidelines for six games. He made his return against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday at the Prudential Center and Lupul said the Leafs talked a lot about catching him after a two-week layoff.
"We said [to each other]he hadn't played in a long time so try to get as many pucks to the net as we can," Lupul said.
The Leafs only managed to get 23 pucks to the net but five of them found the mark, including three by Lupul, as the visitors took a 5-3 win. Lupul scored a natural hat trick, bouncing three shots past a rusty Brodeur during a span of 6 minutes, 42 seconds in the third period. Mikhail Grabovski and Joey Crabb, with his first of the season after being promoted from the farm team on Tuesday, had the other Leaf goals.
It was Lupul's first hat trick since Dec., 2007, when he had two in four days as a Philadelphia Flyer on the 11th and 15th. In those days, Lupul said, he saw a lot more of Brodeur but without much success, which is why the third hat trick of his career is special.
"Yeah, it means a little more," Lupul said. "I saw a lot of this guy when I was in Philadelphia. He always seemed to have my number."
When it comes to the Leafs, though, Brodeur, a certain Hall of Famer when he retires, has not always had their number despite besting them in many a playoff series in the early 2000s. His career mark against them is a tepid 20-18-9, which is fortunate for the Maple Leafs.
If Brodeur was on his game, the Leafs would have paid dearly for the many miscues by their defence, which was just as wobbly as Brodeur. The penalty killers also remained in a funk as the Devils went 2-for-2 on the power play.
The main point for the Leafs, though, was avoiding back-to-back losses after losing to the Ottawa Senators in their last game. Leaf captain Dion Phaneuf said that is one thing head coach Ron Wilson is emphasizing this season.
"It wasn't a perfect game but I thought we stuck with it," Phaneuf said. "[Wilson]said good teams don't lose two in a row. It may be a cliché but we try to live by it."
The win was the Leafs' fourth in their last six games and it kept them on top of the Northeast Division with 17 points. It also put them in second place in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto goaltender Jonas Gustavsson can take just as much credit as Lupul for the win. He gave up three goals on 22 shots but two of them could be blamed on sloppy work by the defence. On the first one, Phaneuf allowed Adam Henrique too much room in front of the net and then his partner Carl Gunnarsson was nowhere to be found when Dainius Zubrus popped in Henrique's rebound. Rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner and Luke Schenn gave Devils forward David Clarkson a breakaway for the third goal. The second goal was simply bad luck, as Patrik Elias's shot bounced off Phaneuf and into the net.
"It was a little harrowing at times," Wilson said. "It was like when you're in one of those motorcycles with a sidecar and you're in the sidecar and have no idea which way it's going. But in the end you get to your destination."
The Leafs' next destination is Columbus, where they will play the hapless Blue Jackets on Thursday night to complete back-to-back road games.
Gustavsson had quite the 30 seconds late in the first period. First, he got caught out of his net but managed to scramble back and rob Devils winger Nick Palmieri, who had an open net to shoot at. Then Gustavsson handed the puck to Gardiner, who set up Grabovski at the other end for a goal. It was Gustavsson's third NHL assist and first since 2009-10, when he had two.
"I think the win was more important than the assist," Gustavsson said. "But it was nice to get."
The Devils are one of 10 NHL teams who share an arena with an NBA team. But the NBA lockout doesn't seem to be doing anything for the Devils. They went into the game 25th among the NHL's 30 teams in attendance with an average crowd of 14,074 in four home games. Wednesday's crowd was announced as 13,033. The announcer did not specify if that was people or eyes.
On a more positive note, Elias's power-play goal in the second period was his 93rd for the Devils over his career, a new franchise record. He passed John MacLean for the mark. Rookie defenceman Adam Larsson got an assist on the play for his first NHL point.
THE OTHER GOALIE
Wilson indicated James Reimer, who has been out since Oct. 22 with a head or neck injury, may play against the Blue Jackets.
"I hope [Thursday]that everything will be all clear and he'll start," the coach said. "If not, I'm content to use The Monster [Gustavsson]again."