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TORONTO – Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle lightened the mood during the second intermission of his club's scoreless deadlock with the New Jersey Devils.
James Reimer made 31 saves, and Phil Kessel snapped a tie late in the third period to lift the Maple Leafs to a 2-0 victory over the Devils on Monday night, despite recording only 12 shots.
Toronto had only five shots through two periods, but instead of ripping his players, Carlyle decided to crack jokes instead.
"We knew we hadn't played very well for 40 minutes, and we just tried to generate some energy because we were all tensed up," Carlyle said. "We tried to get a little bit of fun going in the room in between periods to relieve some of the pressure."
After Reimer made huge saves on Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias that bookended Devils defenseman Andy Greene's drive that hit the post midway through the third, Kessel gave Toronto a 1-0 lead with a shot that beat goalie Martin Brodeur shortside at 13:28.
Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said this wasn't the first time Carlyle used comedy to give the Maple Leafs (24-14-5) a boost.
"He came in with a speech to lighten the mood a little bit, and called a couple guys out individually in a joking manner," Franson said. "Just said make sure you go out there and have some fun and execute our system.
"It's a credit to the coaching staff to recognize the mood in the dressing room and what the boys need."
Jay McClement backed up Kessel's goal with one into an empty net with 36.6 seconds remaining. Reimer earned his third shutout of the season.
"It gives you chills, and I'm sure it gave him chills because they weren't cheering for us, they were cheering for him," McClement said. "We weren't playing too well in front of him but it's good to see him come out and steal one for us."
Toronto, aiming for its first postseason berth since 2004, is 9-1-4 in its past 14 games.
Despite the lopsided shot count, Reimer wasn't critical of his teammates in front of him. He added that New Jersey's stifling style doesn't give teams much room.
"They're trying, and it's just more indicative of how the other team is playing," Reimer said. "They're a tight-checking team and they've been doing that to teams recently, so I don't think it's really indicative of how we were playing.
"We knew it was going to be that kind of a game."
The Devils (15-17-10) lost for the 10th straight time (0-6-4) and were blanked for a second consecutive game, following their 2-0 home defeat to Ottawa on Friday. They haven't won since star forward Ilya Kovalchuk was injured.
"When you do get some shots and get into the rhythm you feel a lot better about yourself, about your game and that next scoring chance you feel that you're able to stop," Brodeur said. "When you don't have a shot for a while it makes it hard."
This winless streak is the Devils' longest since an 0-7-4 run in the 1990-91. The team has had two winless streaks of 11 games, the other in the 1985-86 season. The club record is 18 (0-14-4) in the 1982-83 season, and the franchise record is 27 (0-21-6) in 1976 — the final year the franchise was located in Kansas City.
New Jersey, the defending Eastern Conference champion, is in 11th place — six points below the postseason cutoff with only six games left.
"I think we could have won our last six or seven games, and I don't doubt that we can win six or seven in a row," Devils coach Peter DeBoer. "We don't have to change a lot to do that other than to score a few goals."
Reimer kept the Maple Leafs in the game until Kessel scored with a quick shot that beat Brodeur.
"We didn't play anywhere near to what our expectations were but there's the old adage of hockey — you don't critique a win," Carlyle said. "Good teams find ways to win hockey games. I thought we didn't really have our work boots on, we got outcompeted early in the game, but our goaltender stole us a hockey game."
Reimer was the best player on the ice for Toronto in all three periods, including a big glove save off Henrique three minutes into the second and another stop against Elias in the final minute.
"If he plays like that every game, I don't know why they're looking to get another goalie in here," Brodeur said of Reimer. "He was unbelievable. I think his poise in the net, his rebound control, he stays in his net and plays within himself — he looked really good, really confident."
After the Maple Leafs recorded just five shots through two periods, Dion Phaneuf put Toronto's sixth on net early in the third, eliciting sarcastic cheers from the home crowd.
James van Riemsdyk then fired a shot from the slot that Brodeur stopped with his glove.
Coming off a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, the Maple Leafs didn't register a shot until just after the seven-minute mark of a sluggish opening period.
The Devils carried much of the play in the opening 20 minutes, outshooting Toronto 9-3. The three shots tied the Maple Leafs' lowest output in a period this season, which came in a 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Jan. 26.
Toronto set a new mark for shot futility with only two in the second period as the Devils played their usual tight-checking style against a Maple Leafs lineup that wasn't able to match New Jersey's desperation.
NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the national anthems for the victims of the bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier Monday. ... Maple Leafs LW Joffrey Lupul (concussion) missed his fifth straight game. Lupul practiced on Sunday and participated in Monday's pregame skate, but didn't take the warmup. ... Reimer has started 13 of 14 and eight straight. ... The 40-year-old Brodeur has 666 career wins, but hasn't earned one since March 23 against Florida. ... Kessel was selected as the NHL's second star of the week. He had five goals and two assists in three games.