The New York Rangers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight by a score of 5-4 after a late game winning goal coming from Mats Zuccarello. This game shouldn't have been as close as it was, but at the end of the day, two points are two points no matter how you come away with them.
The Rangers were absolutely dominant coming out of the gate, and went right to work on the Leafs in the offensive zone. Just 2:57 into regulation, the Rangers jumped out to an early lead after Dan Boyle tapped in a beautiful centering feed from Derick Brassard. With the Leafs focusing on Brassard coming out of the corner, Boyle was able to sneak in front of the net, and created a wide open passing lane to receive the pass.
After jumping out to an early lead, the Rangers continued to ramp up the pressure, and eventually came away with their second goal just eight minutes later. Mats Zuccarello came away with his first goal on the night after creating a turnover in front of the net, and then slammed home a quick return pass courtesy of Rick Nash. It seemed like everyone including Alain Vigneault has been urging Zuccarello to pull the trigger a little more, and when he does, he puts up the results he did tonight.
Don't get me wrong, the vision that Zuccarello has is simply one of the best on the team, but man does he have one heck of a shot as well. Not that he really had to use it on the first goal, but his game winning goal was a perfect example of what I am talking about (more on that in a bit). Just as this game was starting to have "blowout" written all over it, the Leafs stormed right back and cut the Rangers lead to 2-1.
Dan Girardi wound up taking a boarding penalty at the 15:33 mark, which sent the Leafs to their first power play of the evening. Just six seconds into the man-advantage, Morgan Rielly walked through the slot uncontested, and bombed an incredible wrist shot over the shoulder of Cam Talbot. Talbot didn't have one of his strongest performances tonight, but I don't think any goaltender in the NHL is stopping that first one.
Despite giving up a late goal in the first period, the Rangers responded right away in the second period with a goal coming from Kevin Hayes. Marc Staal created the entire play by lugging the puck over the blue line, and driving to the net on his backhand. With a defender draped all over him, Staal somehow shoveled the puck over to Kevin Hayes, and he tapped it into the empty net to restore the two goal lead.
The Leafs weren't having any of it though, as under 30 seconds later, they clawed back within a single goal once again. It appeared as if Talbot had trouble locating the puck through traffic, and Stephane Robidas came away with his first goal of the season. It certainly wasn't a good goal to give up in this type of game, but the Rangers responded for their goaltender a short time later.
With the Leafs coming away with a fluke goal a few moments earlier, the Rangers got one of their own just eight minutes later. While killing a penalty, Marc Staal dumped a hard shot into the Leafs zone, and Carl Hagelin was the first one to arrive at the puck. Hagelin noticed Dominic Moore coming in behind him, and tipped the puck past the defenseman to create some space.
Without any sort of hesitation, Moore fired a quick turnaround shot and sailed one right by the ear of James Reimer to give them a 4-2 lead. It's almost as if Reimer didn't expect the quick release from Moore, and that extra delay didn't allow him to get the glove up in time to stop it. After closing out the second period, the Rangers were well in command of their lead, that is, until the third period kicked off.
The Leafs caught the Rangers napping in the third period, and rattled off two straight goals to pull even for the first time on the night. Just 20 seconds into the final frame, the Morgan Rielly show came to town once again, and he ripped home his second of the night from a similar spot as his first goal. The goal appeared to bring some life into the building, and the Leafs capitalized again shortly thereafter.
While the goal coming from Daniel Winnik was as fluky as it gets, the Rangers cannot afford a team to claw their way back after controlling a majority of the game. Ryan McDonagh wound up deflecting the fourth goal past Talbot as he went down to block the pass, and chipped it back between his legs. Panic was starting to set in for the Rangers after blowing the two goal lead, but Mats Zuccarello restored some faith with six remaining in regulation.
Rick Nash set up Zuccarello once again with a beautiful pass through three players, and Zuccarello bombed one under the bar to put the Rangers up 5-4. Like we mentioned a little earlier, that whole shooting thing ain't so bad, huh? That goal would eventually come away as the game winner, after the Rangers were able to contain the Leafs for the closing minutes.
So far without Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers have went 2-1-1 over four games as they head into Thursday game against the Colorado Avalanche. Not a bad start, but it definitely needs to be better on this road trip.