NEWARK, N.J. (AP)—The script was perfect for the first NHL goal by the son of one of the notorious Hanson brothers from the movie “Slap Shot.”
“To be honest I would have taken it any way it would have gone in. Off my head, off my butt, off my skate, and luckily it went off my stick,” said Hanson, whose backhander capped a three-goal first period that led Toronto to a 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night.
Hanson was hoping to speak with his dad, former hockey player turned actor Dave Hanson, after leaving the locker room.
“I’m sure they were watching it at home and jumped through the roof,” said the 23-year-old Hanson, who signed with the Maple Leafs last week after finishing his career at Notre Dame.
In his first two games with Toronto, Hanson saw the Maple Leafs lose twice by a combined margin of 14-7.
Against the Devils, four goals was enough because goaltender Martin Gerber played a spectacular game, making 47 saves.
“We stuck to our system,” Hanson said. “We knew we had to play a certain way against New Jersey and we stuck to it and Martin Gerber was the difference maker. He stood on his head. He was phenomenal.”
Gerber, who had given up 12 goals in his last two games, was a wall against New Jersey.
“We did a much better job of pushing them away from the net,” Gerber said. “It gives you a split second more time and you have a better chance to read the game. That’s a big difference from the last two games.”
The Devils can win the division by earning a point in either of their last two regular season games or by having Philadelphia drop a point. The Flyers beat Florida 2-1 on Tuesday night.
Jamie Langenbrunner scored for New Jersey, which lost for the seventh time in nine games, although this loss snapped a two-game winning streak. The Devils outshot Toronto 48-18.
“Everybody around us is playing well and we have to figure a way to do the same,” Langenbrunner said. “We have two games left and we have to find a way to win both of those.”
Grabovski and Hamilton scored in a 1:19 span midway through the first period to stake Toronto to a 2-0 lead, and Hanson stretched the margin to 3-0 with 4:04 left in the period.
Hanson made a play at the blue line and then charged the net and calmly backhanded the rebound of Jason Blake’s shot past Brodeur before celebrating with teammates.
“It was unbelievable,” Hanson said. “It was my third game and I was hoping to get one before the season ended. To get it against the greatest goalie of all time is unreal.”
Hanson signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Toronto last week. The Venetia, Pa., native had 16 goals and 15 assists in 37 games with the Fighting Irish this season before turning pro.
Grabovski got the big period going for Toronto. The rookie stole Colin White’s pass around the boards, worked a give-and-go with Alexei Ponikarovsky and beat Martin Brodeur from between the circles for his 20th goal.
Hamilton got his third after a Devils turnover in center ice. Boyd Devereaux skated the puck into the Devils’ end and Hamilton got his third of the season after taking a pass from Jamal Mayers in the left circle.
For most of the opening 39 minutes, Gerber stole the show. He stopped the Devils’ first 34 shots, including point-blank saves on Brian Rolston and Travis Zajac late in the period, and one unbelievable stop on Brendan Shanahan on the left doorstep of the crease with New Jersey holding a 5-on-3 manpower advantage.
“When he is on his game, he is making himself big and he doesn’t have to move much,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said of Gerber. “He is a blocker and he saw a lot of rubber coming, but the defense did a good job of tying up sticks when there was an open net.”
Langenbrunner scored with 1:07 left in the second period on the Devils’ sixth power play. Devereaux tried to skate the puck out of his end instead of shooting it out and Paul Martin stole it and found Langenbrunner for his 29th goal.
Mitchell tallied early in the third period off a nice setup by Niklas Hagman. ^Notes: Blake picked up his 400th career assist on Hanson’s goal. …The oops of the night went to Zajac, who skated away after the Canadian national anthem, forgetting about the “Star Spangled Banner.” … LW Brad May is scheduled to play in his 1,000th game Wednesday when the Maple Leafs play his former team, the Sabres, in Toronto. … Toronto won the season series 3-0-1.