NEW YORK – In an eight-game stretch, the Rangers had gone 7-0-1 at Madison Square Garden. That long streak has now been book-ended by two 4-2 losses to Toronto — the Rangers’ only two regulation home losses this season.
It’s been Toronto’s team speed that has given New York fits. When the Maple Leafs’ top line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and Joffrey Lupul are moving the way they were tonight, they’re going to give a lot of teams fits.
“We had a tough time keeping up with them. As the game went on, we got back into it, but we couldn’t come back all the way,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “We’ve played some pretty fast teams and won some hockey games. We’ve struggled against Toronto in that aspect of it.”
The Rangers (15-6-3) had a five-game winning streak and seven-game home winning streak snapped.
“We knew they had good speed,” said Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. “We were a little slow, but we’re only down one goal [after the second period], and we were still in the game. We handled it a little bit better after that.”
They were down by only one after a furious second period comeback. After Toronto scored two goals in 1:37, the Rangers answered by tallying twice in 1:32, including a wicked wrister in the slot by Artem Anisimov, and a five-on-three backdoor goal by Marian Gaborik after a great cross-ice pass from the corner by Derek Stepan.
“That’s been a staple of our team this year, not giving up and not giving in,” said Girardi. “We had a tough start, down three goals, but we popped a couple quick, had a chance to tie in the third period, couldn’t get the last one.”
They certainly had their chances in the third period, though, including an open look Ryan Callahan sent over the net with just over eight minutes left, and a stuff-in attempt by Brad Richards inside of the final minute. But Jonas Gustavsson (30 saves) was equal to the task.
“Especially going into the third, we felt we were going to tie this game up if we just continued to press on them and continued to work,” Callahan said. “I thought we did that. I thought we took control in the third period, we had some chances. It’s just a matter of finishing those chances, and we didn’t do that.”
“That’s been a staple of our team this year, not giving up and not giving in,” Girardi said. “We had a tough start, down three goals, but we popped a couple quick, had a chance to tie in the third period, couldn’t get the last one.”
The game took a scary turn with 4:42 left when Michael Sauer got blasted near the boards by Dion Phaneuf. Sauer needed trainer Jim Ramsey’s help to get to the locker room. Tortorella, who admitted the shoulder-to-chest hit was clean, said Sauer was still being evaluated, and won’t have an update tonight.
Michael Del Zotto also went hard into the boards on an icing touch-up with 3:45 remaining, and got slid into by David Steckel. He also needed Ramsey’s assistance, but stayed on the bench and didn’t miss a shift. Del Zotto had an ice pack on his lower back after the game, but said he would be fine.
The Rangers failed in their first attempt to win their 2,500th game.
Brad Richards now has a six-game point streak (4-6-10) after assisting on Gaborik’s power-play goal.
New York has the least regulation losses in the NHL with six. Philadelphia, Boston, and Minnesota each have seven regulation losses.