NEW YORK --Jonas Gustavsson's unscheduled start Thursday had all the makings of disaster when he allowed a first-period goal that was so soft that injured goaltender James Reimer could have rested his injured neck comfortably on it.
Dan Girardi's unscreened wrist shot from about 50 feet away skittered through Gustavsson's legs to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead just 6:23 into their home opener at Madison Square Garden. Things could've been worse, as the Rangers applied relentless pressure and had two goals waived off due to incidental contact with Gustavsson in the crease
Instead of folding, Gustavsson turned in a rock-solid performance the rest of the way, backstopping the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 4-2 victory. The 27-year-old Swede, who allowed six goals on 25 shots in his previous start in this building on Jan. 19, made 28 saves only a few hours after the Leafs placed Reimer on injured reserve due to whiplash.
"We did a lot of good things. It was a good team effort," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "The one shot, that was a shot the Monster (Gustavsson) should've had -- then he stopped some ones that he shouldn't have. I thought after that first goal, the Monster made some big saves for us and kept us going."
With the Rangers still leading 1-0 in a first period they dominated, Ryan Callahan had a glorious chance to make it a two-goal lead. He had the puck at the right post with Gustavsson sprawled along the ice, but the Monster snared the shot with his catching glove to keep the Northeast Division-leading Leafs within striking distance.
"Saves like that always feel good," Gustavsson said. "It's not something you work on, it's more just reacting out there. Sometimes you stop them and sometimes you don't, but I got a chance to stop that one. I was trying to cover as much as possible by putting (my glove) as close as possible. He probably still had some room, but it's less room when you get that close."
The Rangers were playing their first home game of the season because of renovations taking place on their building. That forced them to play seven road games -- including two in Stockholm and four in Western Canada -- to start the season. They fed off the energy from their fans right from the start, but the Leafs weathered the storm and responded with one of their best periods of the season in the second.
Matthew Lombardi drew the Leafs even when a bad-angled shot eluded goaltender Henrik Lundqvist at 1:20. That was just the start of the onslaught, and things would have been much worse for the Rangers if not for Lundqvist, who stopped a pair of Phil Kessel breakaways and 15 shots in total during what the Leafs (6-2-1) called their best period of the season.
"I think it was," said Clarke MacArthur, whose first goal of the season in the third period turned out to be the winner. "I don't remember a minute in our own end that period. We rolled the lines pretty good. I thought we were moving pucks up and that's how we have to play."
The Leafs broke open the tie game with three straight goals to start the third period from Joffrey Lupul (his fifth of the season), MacArthur and Mike Brown.
Lupul jammed a rebound under Lundqvist after the goaltender couldn't control a long shot from defenseman Jake Gardiner. That goal at 2:11 was followed by MacArthur's first of the season less than five minutes later. MacArthur fired a long shot to the far side that beat Lundqvist, resulting in a look of relief after six goalless games to start the season.
"I was trying to just shoot it as hard as I could for the kickout," said MacArthur, who was hoping to get the rebound onto the stick of teammate Nikolai Kulemin on a 2-on-1. "I was trying to get a rebound, but I’ll take it myself. I was like, 'Finally.' I was able to get something going. It was a good feeling."
MacArthur's goal was the result of a turnover by the Rangers' Artem Anisimov at the attacking blue line. Coach John Tortorella said it was an "easy play" that Anisimov didn't execute because he didn't see a wide-open Michael Sauer on his right. Tortorella didn't want to put the blame for the lackluster final 40 minutes on the air going out of the balloon after an emotional start, but there was a letdown.
"I thought we had a pretty good first and had some sustained pressure," Callahan said. "In the second and third period, we just weren't doing that. It was definitely disappointing, especially with all the anticipation. We wanted to start with a win in the new building. The crowd was great and definitely gave us a lift in the first period."
The Leafs' Mike Brown capped the three-goal third when he artfully used defenseman Steve Eminger as a screen following a Tim Erixon turnover and snapped a shot over Lundqvist's catching glove to make it 4-1. Michael Del Zotto made the score more tolerable with a late goal to cut the lead to two, but it did nothing to take away from the monster effort from Gustavsson, who will be called upon to start Saturday against Pittsburgh with Reimer out until at least Sunday.
"He played great for us," said center Tim Connolly, who logged 15:13 of ice time in his first game of the season. "With the way they started, he kept us in the game. Obviously they bumped him a few times, but he stood right in there and did a great job. It's a big win for us, and he really kept us in there."
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1 - 0 NYR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 TOR
3 - 1 TOR
4 - 1 TOR
Michael Del Zotto
4 - 2 TOR
Interference - Goalkeeper