NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - Travis Zajac scored late in overtime to give the New Jersey Devils a hard-fought 5-4 victory over the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday.
Zajac found the net on a power-play with 45.5 seconds remaining in the extra session to help the Devils register a first win in three and strengthen their Atlantic Division lead.
The goal came after Luke Schenn was penalized for hooking.
“We just wanted to set up a box, feed it down low and get it back for a quick one-timer,” Zajac told reporters. “We didn’t want to rush.”
Zach Parise fed Zajac in the right circle and he fired a shot past Leafs netminder Vesa Toskala.
Zajac also had three assists with line mate Parise adding two goals and two assists.
Dainuis Zubrus, who skated on the same productive line, also scored for the Devils and had two assists.
Coach Jacques Lemaire decided just before game time to put Zubrus on their line to boost New Jersey’s offense.
“I was excited,” said Zubrus, playing only his third game after missing 30 with a broken kneecap.
“I wanted to have at least two lines that would be able to score because I looked at them (Toronto) and they have two lines that are scoring,” Lemaire said.
Rookie Nick Palmieri and Jamie Langenbrunner worked on the second line with Brian Rolston.
“I felt I’d put Jamie with Rolie and maybe it would give us some offense,” Lemaire said.
“They (Toronto) have a pretty good first line. Palmieri doesn’t have enough experience to play against them. I was looking for a guy that had experience.”
The Maple Leafs, bottom of the Northeast Division and mired in a five-game losing run, rallied twice from two-goal deficits to force overtime on Matt Stajan’s backhander with 1:31 left in regulation.
After defenseman Carl Gunnarsson’s first NHL goal put Toronto in front, New Jersey scored three consecutive goals, the first two by Parise.
But Toronto battled back, closing to make it 3-2 on Colton Orr’s breakaway at 14:41 of the second.
Patrick Davis restored the two-goal advantage before Alexei Ponikarovsky and Stajan each tallied in the last five minutes of regulation to tie the score.
Martin Brodeur had 25 saves for New Jersey with rookie Jonas Gustavsson and Toskala splitting time in goal for Toronto.
Gustavsson stopped 16 shots but was benched after Zubrus’s goal gave New Jersey a 3-1 lead in the second. Toskala had 10 stops.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien