In a rare low-scoring game, the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs not only battled defensively for the majority of the game, but did it arguably as entertaining as could be. The constant rhetoric from the NHL front office is “we must increase scoring if fans are to be entertained!” Many regular fans are critical of that analysis, as we know this is not necessarily the case – and theses two teams proved that emphatically on Friday night.
In the Air Canada Centre, beside a raucous Toronto crowd, the teams battled for nearly two and a half periods with no score. But to suggest they simply passed the puck back and forth for 45 minutes is just silly. Play went up and down the ice, there were hits, saves, beautiful passes, and all-around fast-paced play.
Finally, at 8:12 of the third period, Phil Kessel took a pass coming out of the offensive zone, made a wide turn the width of the ice, cruised up the rink with speed, split through two defensemen, and potted the puck past Cory Schneider for a power play goal – the first Toronto goal in 109:34 of play, and the first goal given up by the Devils in 110:37.
Just seven minutes later, also on a power play, Devils forward Michael Ryder fed a puck towards the net that found its way past Jonathan Bernier, tying the game and ultimately sending it to overtime. Overtime was just as thrilling, with odd man rushes, a beautiful stop by Cory Schneider, and ultimately a 2-1 shootout win for the Maple Leafs. A goaltending battle, Jonathan Bernier made 34 saves and Schneider stopped 27.
Too often in sports, people claim that the only way to excite fans is to increase the numbers on the scoreboard. But the ones who have little knowledge of the game usually make those claims.
So it is ironic when the NHL front office, filled with those who have decades of experience in the game, makes numerous moves each offseason to increase scoring. As this game showed, it just might not be necessary.