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The Maple Leafs (24-21-6) won for the fourth time in five games, 4-1 at Carolina on Tuesday. Nik Antropov scored two third-period goals for Toronto, which was missing injured forwards Darcy Tucker - who is tied for the team lead with 19 goals - and Michael Peca.
Without those two players, the Maple Leafs played a more physical game and were the aggressors throughout the contest, outshooting the reigning Stanley Cup champions 38-29 and outhitting the Hurricanes 51-35.
"Physically, we were good," said Toronto coach Paul Maurice, who formerly coached Carolina. "We hit hard tonight and often. That was a big difference for us. We need to do that. One of our assets is that we have actually quite a big team, especially on the wings."
Antropov, who had just six goals in 22 games before Tuesday, has scored nine of his 15 total points in four multipoint games. The center has just two goals and six points in 16 lifetime games against the Rangers, though, and has not scored against them since Dec. 14, 2002.
Toronto has won five of its last six on the road after going 1-5-1 in its previous seven games away from home.
The Rangers (25-21-4) won consecutive road games heading out of the All-Star break, including perhaps one of their best performances in recent months - a 6-1 rout of the Boston Bruins on Monday. Petr Prucha had two goals and an assist for New York, which also ended a five-game power-play drought with its first goal on the man advantage since Jan. 9.
"Maybe there's a desperation that players realize now the situation that we're in coming out of the break and just how important every game is," said Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan, who reached 25 goals for the 10th straight season when he scored on a third-period penalty shot.
Shanahan also said the team needs to maintain its current level of play to return to the playoffs for a second straight season.
"I really think that should be our identity and it can't just be in Philly, in Boston," Shanahan said. "There's a tendency when you're at home to want to open it up and put on a show for the fans and I think our fans just want to see that same battle level and they just want to see results and wins they want to see playoffs."
New York and Toronto are tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference with 54 points, though the Rangers have a game in hand.
The teams split two games played in Toronto this season, with the Maple Leafs routing the Rangers 9-2 in the last meeting on Dec. 16. Kyle Wellwood had two goals and an assist in a five-goal first period and finished with a career-high five points, as did Alexei Ponikarovsky - who added two goals and three assists.