Wednesday evening saw the Toronto Maple Leafs play host to the New Jersey Devils in-front of a sold-out Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Toronto hasn’t played since their tough 6-3 loss against the Nashville Predators on Saturday evening, while the Devils were playing on back-to-back nights after beating up on crosstown rivals New York Rangers 7-4 on Tuesday.
Maple Leaf Superfan Justin Bieber was in attendance as the Leafs held their annual “Next-Gen Game” and they were draped in a very clean looking black and blue jersey, with Bieber’s Drewhouse clothing company collaborating to create a reversible sweater with the Drew logo on the inside of the jersey.
Leaf alumni were also in attendance with the likes of Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour taking pictures with fans. Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri was also in attendance representing the Leafs.
Toronto has held “Next-Gen” Games in the past but the most memorable of them came back in 2019 when the Leafs and Hurricanes battled to a wild 8-6 Maple Leaf win, which saw the likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner pull off some ridiculous plays that afternoon.
Instead of holding the game in the afternoon like in years past, this years Next Generation game was held in the evening like normal.
Both teams had little to separate themselves after one period with the shots favouring the Leafs by a 11-3 margin. Nico Daws was playing lights out for the Devils, while Mrazek got his first start with the Leafs since his disappointing Heritage Classic performance against the Buffalo Sabres.
Earlier in the week Mrazek was also placed on waivers, but ended up clearing waivers and returning to the team after Monday’s trade deadline.
Damon Severson would get the scoring open after Pierre Engvall took a minor penalty for a trip just 4:38 into the second. Severson got a fortunate bounce off the leg of a sprawling Ilya Lyubushkin and past Mrazek for his ninth goal of the season.
Auston Matthews took the second Leaf penalty of the frame after his hook on a Devil, sending them to the power play again. Toronto’s short handed play this season has been one of its most lethal assets as they have eight on the year.
Ilya Mikheyev brought that short handed tally to nine when he powered through the Devils defence and danced around Daws to tuck home his 13th goal of the season.
This tie would only last for about a minute and a half when Devils captain Nico Hischier banged home his 18th goal of the season just a few feet infront of the Maple Leafs net as they would go behind once again.
Toronto would respond very quick as the top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting would hem the Devils in their own zone for close to a minute an a half when Auston Matthews would throw a bouncing puck into the slot for a wide open Marner one-timer for his career high 27th goal of the season.
With his assist on Marner’s goal, Matthews would also surpass his previous career high as he reaches 80 points on the season.
The Leafs would get away with a penalty call after newly acquired Mark Giordano would appear to trip Tomas Tatar early in the final frame, but after a review from the officiating crew they would deem it to be an accidental trip on Tatar’s end giving the Leafs an early break.
Toronto wouldn’t be as lucky midway through the period as Ilya Mikheyev would high stick former Leaf Andreas Johnsson in the face causing him to leak some blood and sending the Devils to the power play for four minutes.
With the Leafs giving the Devils no room to work with on the ensuing extended penalty kill, Pierre Engvall found himself on a 2-on-1 with Marner, but decided to take the puck in himself and around a sprawling Dougie Hamilton and shooting shortside for another shorthanded Maple Leaf goal as he collects goal number 11 on the season.
Engvall’s tally would end up turning into the game winner for the Leafs as they comeback to beat the Devils 3-2 in a rather tame Next-Gen Game.
With their win the Maple Leafs would leapfrog the Tampa Bay Lightning for a one point lead of second place in the Atlantic Division, and with the way the Boston Bruins have been playing recently the race for the playoff matchups is starting to heat up.
Toronto’s deadline acquisitions in Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell wouldn’t make an impact on the scoresheet this evening, but with Giordano’s three hits, two blocks and 18:35 TOI, and Blackwell’s two shots, four blocked shots in only 8:21 TOI, the two former Seattle Kraken’s made a tidy defensive impact in their debuts.
New Jersey will get a couple of days off before they head to Washington on Saturday to take on the Capitals, while Toronto also gets a couple of days to relax before a much anticipated battle against longtime foes in the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.