Work in Sports
TORONTO (Ticker) -- Before the series started, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn accused the New Jersey Devils of throwing the first punch and retreating. In Game One, his team drew first blood.
Darcy Tucker scored the winning goal 1:18 into the final period and goaltender Curtis Joseph made its stand up with 32 saves as the Maple Leafs hung on for a 2-1 triumph over the Devils in the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Quinn said the Devils get in the first punch, then look for the retaliation from the opposition. The Devils appeared unfazed by the comments, outshooting the Leafs 33-21 and holding control in the offensive end.
However, New Jersey was victimized by hitting three posts and saw both of Toronto's scoring plays bounce off a Devils player.
On the go-ahead goal, Wendel Clark held in the puck at the left point and flipped a harmless shot toward the slot which bounced off rookie Steve Kelly and towards the net.
Tucker took the puck in the slot and has his original shot stopped by goaltender Martin Brodeur before he backhanded one inside the left post for his third goal of the playoffs.
"I got a pass for Clarkie, it hit a glove, bounced on the ice," Tucker said. "I got a backhander on net, the puck came right back to me and I shot into a wide-open net."
"It was kind of a broken play," Brodeur said. "Clark made a past real high and one of our players threw it back toward the net. Tucker made a good shot and the rebound just laid there for him and he was able to tap it in. It was kind of a lucky bounce."
Although the shots were even, 9-9, in the third period, the Devils pinned the Leafs in the offensive zone. With Brodeur on the bench, New Jersey went for the tying tally but Bobby Holik was stopped on a one-timer with 90 seconds remaining.
Things looked bleak for the Devils with 14 seconds left and a faceoff in the defensive zone. Petr Sykora was able to get a chance seven ticks later but his slap shot went wide of the net, giving Toronto the victory.
Sykora scored the lone goal for New Jersey, which lost for the first time in the postseason. The club swept Florida in the opening round to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1997, when they were eliminated by the New York Rangers.
Toronto remained undefeated in the Air Canada Centre during the postseason and has been outshot in all five of its playoffs wins. Game Two is Saturday in Toronto.
To go with what Quinn openly said, New Jersey was visited by NHL supervisor of officials John D'Amico, who warned the club of doing what the coach had spoke about to the media. According to New Jersey coach Larry Robinson, it was Toronto which should have been called for penalties.
"We had a number of occassions were the puck awas just laying there and we were hoping to get rebounds, but they grabbed a hold of our stick," Robinson said. "I'm hoping that they could watch it a litttle bit closer. They got them once in the first period. Their guys are really notorious for holding the stick as much as we are for punching and running."
Joseph, who was 3-0-1 against the Devils during the regular season, kept the lead intact with game-saving stops on Jason Arnott and Claude Lemieux early in the third period.
After a scoreless first period, the Leafs broke through with a tally just 67 seconds into the second. Dimitri Yushkevich fired a slap shot from the right point, but the puck dipped down and between Brodeur's pads after it deflected off Devils winger Sergei Nemchinov.
New Jersey had just finished killing off a two-minute penalty against defenseman Scott Niedermayer, who could not get back into the play before the goal was scored.
"We were pretty lucky for a couple of periods," Quinn said. "We scored early which changed things, it always does, depending on what team has the go-ahead goal. We were decent in protecting that, although they did have some good opportunities."
Nemchinov was one of the three Devils players to hit metal when his one-timer bounced off the left post with 4:20 remaining in the opening period. Sykora hit the crossbar with a slap shot just minutes earlier and Elias flipped the puck off the right post shortly after Yushkevich's goal.
Sykora got temporary revenge on the red bars when his blazing shot screamed over Joseph's right shoulder, off the crossbar and into the net for his second goal of the playoffs.
"I think we were lucky tonight," Clark said. "Cujo stood on his head. He was our best player and we have to play better in the rest of the games if we are going to compete with these guys. If we give them chances like that again, they may put them away."