Work in Sports
TORONTO (Ticker) -- Nearly benched in his last trip to Toronto, rookie Scott Gomez played a key role in helping the New Jersey Devils grab the lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Gomez made dazzling passes to set up the tying and go-ahead goals as the Devils rallied, then held on for a 4-3 victory over the Maple Leafs that moved them within one win of the conference finals.
Gomez is the favorite for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. But coach Larry Robinson nearly made him a healthy scratch in Game Two as fellow rookie Steve Brule got a look during the pregame skate.
Tonight, Gomez set up Sergei Nemchinov's tally with 4:01 left in the second period that forged a 2-2 tie. On a power play at 7:47 of the third, the Alaska native made a behind-the-back drop pass to defenseman Vladimir Malakhov, whose first postseason goal put New Jersey ahead to stay.
"Larry, when we talked, he said some players react differently when they're (struggling). He had confidence, sticking with me in the lineup," Gomez said.
Rookie John Madden added a key insurance goal at 14:07 and it became the game-winner when Sergei Berezin answered for Toronto with 2:56 remaining.
The Maple Leafs pressed for the tying goal after pulling Curtis Joseph for an extra attacker and maintained relentless pressure in the Devils' zone. But Martin Brodeur held on, smothering former teammate Steve Thomas' centering pass with Darcy Tucker on the doorstep with 17 seconds left.
New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens was penalized for hooking, giving Toronto a 6-on-4 advantage. But Brodeur got his left shoulder on Igor Korolev's shot from above the faceoff circle, giving the Devils a chance to end the series at home on Monday.
"I thought we had some good chances at the end and I thought we were going to get one," Maple Leafs rookie Jeff Farkas said. "We never gave up, that's the big thing for our team. When there was six minutes left, down two goals, we really came together as a team. It's unfortunate we couldn't get the last goal."
Following the final buzzer, Brodeur scrapped with Darcy Tucker after the two tangled in the second period.
"He plays the game hard. He went after me a few times in the game. He'd skate right by my crease and try to touch me, not really take me out but just to bug me," Brodeur said. "When the game ended, he was right there. I kind of gave him a little push. I don't know why he dove, because the game was over.
After that, Stumpy (Thomas) went over to Nieder (Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer) and he saw me and jumped at me."
"It's ridiculous. You can't stand in front of the net without getting your head taken off," Tucker said. "Nothing is done about it, so you have to stick up for yourself once in a while."
Farkas, a finalist for college's Hobey Baker Award who made his professional debut in Game Four, scored his first NHL goal 2:19 into the second period to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead.
Nemchinov tied it 13 1/2 minutes later. Gomez had the puck just inside the Toronto blue line and slipped a short pass that helped Nemchinov break up the middle. He moved in alone on Joseph and put a wrist shot over the goaltender's right shoulder for his third playoff goal.
Gomez had just come out of the penalty box in the third period when he dropped the puck to Malakhov. The much-maligned defenseman carried to the top of the left faceoff circle and wristed a shot past Joseph's glove for his first postseason goal since 1998.
"I saw Vladdie going in and I just went with it. And he put it away. That was it," Gomez said.
"I just jumped (in) the play and I knew Gomez is a pretty good passer," said Malakhov. "And I have a chance and I shoot and score. It's nothing special."
Madden got his first career playoff tally 6:20 later, firing a rising slapper from the outside of the left circle over Joseph's right shoulder.
Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn wasn't pleased with his team's effort on either goal.
"Two guys are there but neither one takes the kid and he kind of stuffs it up for their first goal," he said. "The second one, our guys stayed on too long and we had it over the red line but we couldn't put a handle on it. We didn't protect the lead as well as you might expect in those situations in this kind of a game, this important game."
Berezin replied with his fourth playoff goal but first of this series. Defenseman Cory Cross retrieved a loose puck behind the net and fed Berezin, who tapped it by Brodeur from above the crease.
Toronto scored first for the first time since the series opener.
Garry Valk was at the right circle when he tipped Alexander Karpovtsev's point shot past Brodeur 8:55 into the game.
Karpovtsev took a stick to the chest and missed the final two periods due to an irregular heartbeat.
The Devils tied it at 16:11 on Patrik Elias' power-play goal. He got the puck at the red line, skated down the right side and drove past Tucker before cutting to the net and shoveling the puck over Joseph's right shoulder.