TORONTO - Scott Gomez, on the verge being benched for poor play early in the series, had two critical assists as the New Jersey Devils moved within one victory of the Eastern Conference finals.
Gomez, a favorite for NHL rookie of the year, assisted on the second and third goals as the Devils rallied from two one-goal deficits to beat Toronto 4-3 Saturday night, giving them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is in New Jersey on Monday.
The end of the game was marred by several fights, while frustrated Maple Leaf fans littered the ice with garbage. Toronto's Darcy Tucker ignited the commotion when he took a couple of swings at New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur at the final horn.
After setting up Sergei Nemchinov's goal that tied the game at 2 with 4:01 left in the second period, Gomez made a brilliant behind-the-back pass, setting up Vladimir Malakhov's go-ahead goal 7:47 into the third.
John Madden extended the margin to 4-2 with 5:53 left. The Maple Leafs closed within one when Sergei Berezin scored with 2:56 remaining, but they couldn't get the equalizer.
It was by Gomez's hand that the Devils took the lead for good. Just inside the Toronto blue line, Gomez faked a shot, freezing a Leafs defender and passing to Malakhov. With Toronto's Kevyn Adams trying to stop him from behind, Malakhov snapped a 20-footer that beat Curtis Joseph.
After coach Larry Robinson threatened to sit Gomez for his poor play before Game 2, he has two goals and five points in his past three games.
Patrik Elias scored the first goal for the Devils.
The Maple Leafs continued to get solid goaltending from Joseph, but have yet to hear from their big offensive threats. Toronto's No. 1 line of Mats Sundin, Steve Thomas and Jonas Hoglund has just one goal in the series, coming in Game 4's 3-2 win at New Jersey.
The Maple Leafs, with just six goals in the first four games of the series, finally got some offense from some unlikely sources - Garry Valk and Jeff Farkas.
Valk's a fourth-liner and defensive specialist, while Farkas was playing for Boston College in the NCAA championship game just last month.
After Valk and Elias traded first-period goals, the Leafs went ahead on Farkas' goal 2:19 into the second period.
The Devils tied it when Gomez beat defenseman Greg Andrusak to the puck and set up Nemchinov for a breakaway goal.
Joseph was sharp once again as the Leafs were outshot 32-25. His most remarkable stop came four minutes into the second period during a scramble in front of his net.
Joseph, caught out of position, reached behind him and stopped the puck after three-quarters of it had crossed the goal line. The entire puck has to cross the goal line for it to count as a goal.
The Maple Leafs' power play continued to struggle, finishing 0-for-2 for the game.
The Leafs have yet to score a power-play goal against the Devils, and have gone eight straight games - going back to Toronto's first-round series against Ottawa - without scoring with the man advantage. Overall, Toronto's power-play has gone 2-for-41 in the playoffs, second-worst only to the Los Angeles Kings, who went 0-for-23 in being swept by Detroit in the first round.
Leafs left wing Wendel Clark, missed Saturday's game for undisclosed reasons. After being a healthy scratch for Toronto's first four playoff games, Clark played in the next six, recording a goal and assisting on Tucker's game-winning goal in Game 1 against the Devils.
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