NEWARK, N.J. - John Madden showed the New Jersey Devils exactly what they were missing during his absence.
Madden returned to the lineup after sitting out two games, a pair of losses in which the Devils had just one goal in each, and scored twice to lead New Jersey past the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Sunday.
"My thoughts were that we would see how things were going," said Madden, who was sidelined with a right ankle laceration. "I was a little winded, since I hadn't skated until Saturday. I felt a little something here and there, but nothing big. I got better as the game went on."
Madden, widely recognized as one of the NHL's premiere defensive players, has emerged as an important part of the Devils offence this season.
"He's great on faceoffs and in so many parts of the game," said Martin Brodeur, who made 34 saves. "We're happy to have him back."
Travis Zajac also scored for the Devils, who ended the two-game home-ice losing streak.
Darcy Tucker and Pavel Kubina scored for Toronto, which had won three straight amid a swirl of rumours that general manager John Ferguson is about to be fired.
"We played good hockey these last four games," said Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. "We played against one of the best teams in the conference. We had a lot of chances and, in the third period, we totally dominated them."
As to possible front-office upheaval, Sundin said that "if we sit and wait and follow what's happening off the ice, we're in big trouble.
"I know it's a cliche, but as players, we can't really worry about that stuff. We have to worry about what we have to do on the ice."
The teams were locked in a scoreless tie with 2:32 remaining in the second period when Zajac slammed home the rebound of Karel Rachunek's point shot. The tally extended Zajac's goal-scoring streak to three games.
Madden and Gionta attacked the Toronto zone on a 2-on-1 break a couple minutes later, with Madden carrying the puck down the left wing. He tried to feed it to Gionta, but it deflected off the skate of Toronto defenceman Ian White and into the net with 13 seconds left in the period.
Madden extended the Devils' lead to 3-0 at 3:54 of the third when Paul Martin's shot deflected off his skate while tied up in front of the net by Nik Antropov.
Toronto countered with goals from Tucker and Kubina to trim the New Jersey lead to 3-2.
Tucker broke up Brodeur's shutout bid at 4:54 on a goal very similar to Madden's second tally. Tucker was tied up by a Devils defender when the puck glanced off his skate.
Kubina cut the Toronto deficit to one at 8:29 with a strong individual effort. The defenceman wheeled around the Devils net for a wraparound attempt that Brodeur blocked, but Kubina put in his rebound for an unassisted goal.
Brodeur preserved the win by stopping a pair of close-in chances from Alex Steen in the closing seconds, including a one-timer that appeared ticketed for the net.
"It hit the post and my pad at the same time," Brodeur said.
Steen knew he was facing one of the game's clutch performers.
"It's just small margins," Steen said. "He reads the play very well. The puck came to me and Marty got over just as quick."
The Maple Leafs started Andrew Raycroft and the Devils wasted little time peppering the backup goalie with shots.
New Jersey took 14 of the first 17 attempts, but Raycroft stood his ground in the scoreless first period. Toronto also had some good chances, the best coming when a shot by Alexei Ponikarovsky hit the post in the opening minute.
Notes: Martin skipped Saturday's practice with a sore ankle and knee but was in the lineup. ... The Prudential Center showed the competing NFC championship game between the Giants and Packers on televisions throughout the arena. Fans were invited to remain after the hockey game to watch the remainder of the football game on the centre scoreboard screens. ... Madden and Zack Parise led the Devils with five shots each. A trio of Maple Leafs also had five shots: Steen, Sundin and Jason Blake. ... The Devils were 0-for-3 on the power play, extending their man-advantage futility to 0-for-15 over the last four games.