TORONTO -- With the Leafs having just five shots on goal after two periods and sensing his team was frustrated after 40 minutes, Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle elected to lighten the mood in the Toronto dressing room heading into the third period.
According to players, Carlyle jokingly called out guys who appeared discouraged.
The move paid off as Phil Kessel picked up the game-winner at 13:28 of the third and James Reimer made 32 saves helping Toronto blank New Jersey 2-0 Monday night.
"(Carlyle) called a couple single guys out individually in a joking manner to lighten the mood up and just kind of said 'go out there and make sure you have some fun and execute our system and we'll be fine'," said Cody Franson, who picked up an assist on the Kessel goal. "It's just a credit to the coaching staff to recognize the mood in the dressing room and know what the boys need."
Kessel picked up a feed from Dion Phaneuf and let go one of his patented wrist shots from the top of the face-off circle on the power play, beating Martin Brodeur on just Toronto's eighth shot of the game.
Kessel now has six goals in five games.
The shutout was Reimer's third of the season tying his previous single-season best.
Jay McClement added an empty netter with just 36 seconds remaining.
"We tried to get a little bit of fun going in the room in between periods to relieve some of the pressure," said Carlyle of the second intermission. "Just have some smiles on somebody's face."
Toronto can now clinch their first playoff berth since the 2003-04 season Tuesday night with a win in Washington coupled with a loss by the Winnipeg Jets, who host the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Leafs (24-14-5) improved to 8-4-1 against the Atlantic Division with the win and now have points in 13 of their last 14 while going 9-1-4.
The Devils (15-17-10) had a number of opportunities to get the game's first goal midway through the third with Leafs defenseman Ryan O'Byrne in the box serving a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass, but they ran into a hot goaltender in Reimer.
Adam Henrique had Reimer down and out, but the Leafs starter somehow managed to get his right pad on it to keep the puck out.
Off the ensuing face-off, Andy Greene hit the post with a shot from the point. On the Devils next rush Reimer robbed Patrik Elias who was in all alone.
New Jersey finished 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
"The mantra we try to create is 'just give us a chance' and (Reimer) did that," said Carlyle. "He gave us a chance."
Added Reimer: "I thought I played well for the most part, but having said that, there were a couple back-door chances where they missed -- I'm sure I played well, but my teammates battled hard in front of me.
The Devils dropped to 1-6-4 in their past 11 games and continue to struggle in the absence of sniper Ilya Kovalchuk going 0-6-4 without the Russian in their lineup.
"If (Reimer) plays like that every game I don't know why they're looking to get another goalie in here," Brodeur said in reference to the rumors at the trade deadline. "He was unbelievable. I think his poise in the net, his rebound control, he stays in his net and plays within himself -- he looked really good, really confident."
New Jersey tied a team record for most consecutive losses (10) set in 1983-84 Monday. It was also the first time they'd been shutout in back to back games since Mar. 25 in Pittsburgh and Mar. 26, 2011, in Buffalo.
"We're working hard, we're creating chances," Elias said. "It's unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. I don't have an explanation. At a crucial time we hit a post on the power play. Right after that, I got a chance so it's just not happening.
"It's frustrating but the only we can do is keep going and keep playing the same way."
New Jersey held Toronto to just five shots through the opening 40 minutes while putting 16 on Reimer through two periods.
With less than a minute remaining in the second, Reimer stretched out to deny Devils Travis Zajac who walked out from behind the net.
The Devils also had their best chance during Toronto's second power play of the game as Elias forced Reimer to make a good save off a backhand shot.
O'Byrne took two straight penalties in the second period, but the Devils were unable to score and managed just one shot on goal.
Less than two minutes into the second, Andrei Loktionov had an excellent chance from the side of the net, but put the puck just wide.
James van Riemsdyk had Toronto's best chance of the second, on a wrap-around, but could not beat Brodeur. The Leafs were held to just two shots in the middle period.
Leafs forward Nazem Kadri drew his league-leading 29th power play just 49 seconds into the game, but the Leafs were unable to capitalize on the man advantage.
NOTES: Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov served the second game of a four-game suspension for his hit to the head of Bruins forward Brad Marchand. ... Kovalchuk missed his 10th straight game with a sprained right shoulder. ... Toronto forward Joffrey Lupul missed his fifth straight game with a concussion. ...Leafs forward Kessel was selected the NHL's second star of the week after leading the league with five goals and finishing tied for the league lead with seven points in three games last week. ... Prior to puck drop, both teams observed a moment of silence for the victims in Monday's Boston Marathon explosions.