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Keefe rips Maple Leafs for 'immature' performance vs. Devils


TORONTO — Sheldon Keefe took just four questions Tuesday night.

The Maple Leafs head coach still got a lot off his chest.

A steaming Keefe ripped Toronto's "immature" performance over the final two periods of a 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils that followed a dominant start.

The Leafs led 25-10 on the shot clock after 20 minutes, but trailed 2-1 against one of the NHL's most dangerous teams off the rush.

With the home side's structure in tatters coming out of the intermission, the Devils capitalized on a boatload of errors.

"Instead of having a strong (second) period and building on it and continuing to do the things that we had done well, I thought we just overdid it," Keefe said. "Really immature all the way through our game.

"It was immature from our most experienced players and our leaders, and then our players who are immature — our inexperienced guys — made lots of mistakes."

Jake Allen was stellar in stopping 42 shots for New Jersey (36-33-4), which has won four of five as the club makes a late surge for a playoff spot.

"Tiring," he said of his first period. "But over the course of 82 games, there's gonna be times like that against a really good offensive team."

Nico Hischier had a goal and two assists, Jack Hughes scored twice — including into the empty net — and Timo Meier added a goal and an assist for the Devils. Luke Hughes and Max Willman provided the rest of the offence, while Jesper Bratt chipped in three assists. Curtis Lazar added two of his own.

"Our goalie played phenomenal in the first," New Jersey interim head coach Travis Green said. "The speed and the skill of their team … took us a little while to catch up."

Auston Matthews, with his NHL-leading 59th goal, William Nylander and Tyler Bertuzzi replied for Toronto (40-22-9), which got 19 saves from Joseph Woll. T.J. Brodie had two assists.

"I don't think that's stuff you want to see in your game at this point in the year," Matthews said of his group's sloppy showing. "We've got to make sure we're dialed in for a full 60 minutes."

The Leafs sit third in the Atlantic Division with the post-season less than a month away, while the Devils are five points back of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card berth.

"It is rattling," Nylander said. "We're capable of a lot better."

Toronto was minus injured forward Mitch Marner (high ankle sprain) and goaltender Ilya Samsonov (undisclosed) along with defencemen Morgan Rielly (upper-body injury) and Joel Edmundson (undisclosed).

Down 2-1 after that impressive opening period, the Leafs scored with their first effort on target in the second when Nylander capitalized at 3:14 to give him back-to-back 40-goal campaigns. Matthews then buried his 59th on a break at 4:51.

"It's 25 shots, everybody's feeling great," Keefe said of Toronto's approach in the second and third. "Usually things adjust and the opposition pushes back."

That's exactly what happened.

Meier tied it back up 46 seconds later with his 24th and Willman picked up his second at 13:05 for a 4-3 lead through two periods.

Allen made a big stop on Max Domi midway through the third as Toronto searched for an equalizer. But the Leafs forward made an ill-advised pass later in the period that resulted in a Jack Hughes breakaway for his 25th with 3:13 left in regulation.

The Devils centre then iced it into an empty net.

Keefe said his leaders have to set an example.

"John Tavares has been the example for us," said the seething bench boss. "He's been outstanding for us for a long period of time. He himself got carried away tonight. That's our captain. If that's gonna happen … now we're just making it up as we go. When you do that, you open the door for the opposition.

"The last goal at the end of the third period (before the empty netter), that's indicative of our second and third periods."

Things did start brightly.

The Leafs opened the scoring 64 seconds in when Bertuzzi scored his 16th. Luke Hughes got that one back at 4:25 for the rookie defenceman's ninth.

Toronto peppered Allen from there — shot attempts read 38-14 through 20 minutes — but couldn't find a way past New Jersey's netminder before Hischier scored his 24th on a 2-on-1 with 2:04 remaining in the period.

Despite the 2-1 deficit, the Leafs were feeling good.

Then the wheels fell off.

"Hated lots about our game," Keefe said. "Hopefully the players hate it just as much or more than I do."


Marner and Samsonov were both on the ice ahead of the morning skate. Keefe said both could rejoin the team for Wednesday's practice.


Toronto: Hosts the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

New Jersey: Visits the Buffalo Sabres on Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2024.


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