Belfour returned to the lineup after missing 11 of 12 games and shut out the Devils 3-0 Saturday night.
Belfour, plagued recently by a sore back, made 17 saves for his sixth shutout of the season and the 71st of his career. That put him in a tie with Harry Lumley for 10th on the NHL career list and three shutouts behind New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, first among active goalies.
“It didn’t bother me during the game,” Belfour said of his injury. “The next day is important. Nobody has a crystal ball to be able tell you what is going to happen the next day. I’m just going to do the best I can.”
The Maple Leafs seemed a lot more confident with their No. 1 goalie. Toronto allowed an average of 3.8 goals in the 11 games Belfour missed after allowing 2.3 in 53 games before his was hurt.
Fans, worried that Belfour’s injury might wreck Toronto’s chances to win its first Stanley Cup title since 1967, chanted ‘Eddie! Eddie!’ in the final minutes.
“I wasn’t concerned about Eddie,” said forward Joe Nieuwendyk, also a teammate of Belfour’s with the Stars. “I’ve seen it before in Dallas. He’s the kind of guy that you leave alone. He knows what he needs to do to get ready.”
Toronto attacked early and Belfour got the crowd going by making a nice kick save on Sergei Brylin.
Brodeur wasn’t too impressed with Belfour’s performance.
“He barely saw 10 quality shots, the rest were dump-ins. You’re not going to beat a goalie with that lack of quality,” Brodeur said.
Toronto ended a season-high, three-game losing skid. New Jersey has lost two straight.
Brodeur made a sprawling save midway through the first, but couldn’t recover in time to stop Pilar’s one-timer from the blue line at 9:25.
Tucker’s one-timer from the side on the net during a power play made it 2-0 at 18:35. Just 19 seconds later, Ponikarovsky backhanded a rebound past Brodeur.
The last two periods featured little of the excitement of the first.
“They got their goalie back and they had an edge,” New Jersey forwardScott Gomez said.
New Jersey D Brian Rafalski didn’t return after he bruised his leg when checked into the net in the third period. Rafalski was down on the ice for a few minutes before being helped off. Brodeur jumped over him to avoid a collision. Rafalski left the team and will be reevaluated in New Jersey on Sunday. … New Jersey LW Erik Rasmussen narrowly avoided a punishing hip check by Toronto’s Bryan McCabe in the second. … Toronto’s Gary Roberts missed hiseighth straight game because of a strained groin.