NEWARK, N.J. — Head coach Randy Carlyle knows he needs to pull his Toronto Maple Leafs back together — he’s just not sure how.
Embattled goaltender James Reimer gave up three goals on 10 shots in less than 22 minutes of action as Toronto lost to the New Jersey Devils 3-2 on Sunday, the Maple Leafs’ fifth straight loss.
Rookie Drew MacIntyre replaced Reimer after the third goal. MacIntyre finished with 14 saves.
“We have to find a way to stop the bleeding here and do everything in our power to regroup with this hockey club and get them playing to a higher level,” said Carlyle, who refused to address Toronto’s goaltending situation.
“When we do play for stretches, we look like a team that could play with anybody, and then we are inept in some areas where the puck doesn’t bounce our way, or hits a post. All the good fortune we had earlier seems piled against us.”
The Maple Leafs have been struggling in goal with Jonathan Bernier out with a groin injury and they are barely hanging on to a playoff spot.
The win moved the Devils within five points of Toronto for the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Washington is a point behind the Maple Leafs with a game in hand and Columbus is two points back with two games in hand.
Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel scored for the Maple Leafs (36-29-8), who have tied the longest skid of the season. The slump could not have come at a worse time with nine games left in the regular season.
“We have a lot of games left. We have to come together as a team and battle,” said Bozak, who repeatedly said that the team let Reimer down and it wasn’t fair to blame the goaltender.
New Jersey is peaking at the right time, benefiting from good goaltending from Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur.
Schneider made 21 saves and withstood a furious late attack as the Devils took advantage of Toronto mistakes to take a 3-0 lead early in the second period.
“I know the statistics don’t say that but I really feel we can win every game,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said of the Devils’ playoff chances after winning for only the second time in six games.
“You look at our schedule and if our goaltending continues to play the way it is, I think we can win every game.”
Rookie defenceman Jon Merrill set up a second-period breakaway goal by Patrik Elias and scored 32 seconds later to build the lead. Damien Brunner had scored in the first period.
“Anything is possible,” Devils captain Bryce Salvador said. “We are not looking 10 games ahead. We’re just looking at the next game. We’re trying to play every game like it’s the last game.”
New Jersey, which was shut out twice in its recent slide, capitalized on bad plays by the Maple Leafs.
Brunner, who had been a healthy scratch the past two games, gave the Devils the lead with his 11th goal of the season. Defenceman Marek Zidlicky started the play with a pass up the ice to Adam Henrique that started an off-man rush. Henrique found Brunner coming down the right side and his shot from the circle went over Reimer’s glove.
The game changed in the opening two minutes of the second period and Merrill was the catalyst.
Controlling the puck in his own end, he made a stretch pass that got Elias behind Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly. Elias skated in on Reimer and made a move to his backhand that deked the goaltender out of position for a shot into an empty net.
Defenceman Peter Harrold, who had not dressed in the Devils’ 12 games following the Olympic break, carried the puck low into the Maple Leafs right circle and sent a pass toward the net. Ryane Clowe had it hit off him and go to the left point, where Merrill unloaded a shot that squeezed through the goaltender and rolled into the net.
“I think that was the best 30 seconds of my career so far,” Merrill said with a laugh. “Everyone in here believes. We know if we keep playing our game and doing things right, we are going to get wins and points and we can make it.”
Toronto played a lot better the rest of the game. Bozak put them on the board at 5:26 of the second period, redirecting a pass by Rielly on a power play into an open net.
Kessel got his 36th of the season with 1:31 to play after Toronto pulled its goaltender with more than two minutes left in regulation. Kessel crashed into the net after the goal but returned for a wild final 91 seconds in which Schneider made two big saves.
Toronto had plenty of good scoring chances the rest of the way with none greater than a two-man advantage late in the period. Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson had big shots that Schneider stopped in winning his second straight after losing the previous three.
Schneider’s best saves might have been early in the third period when he came across the crease and stopped James van Riemsdyk in close and made a glove save on Bozak after the Leafs pulled their goaltender.
The game was David Clarkson’s first in New Jersey since signing with the Maple Leafs as a free agent after last season.
NOTES: Bernier did not make the trip to New Jersey in missing his fifth straight game. ... Harrold’s assist was his first point since Nov. 12 against the Rangers. ... For the second game in a row, Jagr hit a post with a shot. ... Van Riemsdyk has one goal in his past 11 games. ... The Devils dressed seven defencemen. Eric Gelinas got the odd shift with the fourth line.