TORONTO -- Two nights after John Tortorella voiced his displeasure with his team's play in a loss to Ottawa, the New York Rangers played the way their coach said they're supposed to play every night.
Martin Biron stopped 20 shots and added an assist as the Rangers dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 3-0 victory on Canadian Forces Appreciation Night at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
Tortorella laced into his team following a 3-0 home loss to Ottawa on Thursday, and his message must have gotten through. The Rangers outshot the Leafs 30-20, outchanced and outhit them, and generally played the way you'd expect the team on top of the NHL's overall standings to play -- that's what the Blueshirts are after the win moved them past Vancouver into the top spot.
"We talked about it immediately after the (Ottawa) game, and in two or three other meetings before this game – about playing the way we're supposed to play...”
Tortorella said. "(Being physical) It's a big part of our game, that's the way we have to play, we are not a talented enough, we are not a good enough team if we don't play the way we're supposed to play ... it's our responsibility to continue to play that way."
Biron improved to 9-2-0 with his second shutout of the season in his first appearance since Jan. 5. The Leafs' Tim Connolly thought he might have squeaked one by Biron during a power play early in the third period and his team trailing 2-0, but after a video review, it was deemed the puck had not crossed the goal line.
"I was hugging the post and trying to seal the knees, I know Timmy, I've played with him for many years, and I know he is pretty tricky -- his backhand especially," Biron said of his former teammate in Buffalo. "It trickled through my knees, it was close but in a game like this, it was 2-0 at the time, it was a big play for us.”
But those opportunities were few and far between -- the Rangers were clearly the better team throughout the course of the evening.
New York opened the scoring early in the second period with the kind of goal you would expect from a League leader -- the Rangers jumped on a neutral zone turnover and made the Leafs pay. Wojtek Wolski, Derek Stepan and Michael Rupp raced into the Toronto zone on an odd-man rush, with Rupp finishing off a series of tic-tac-toe passes by beating Jonas Gustavsson at 3:35. It was Rupp's fourth of the season and first since he scored two goals against the Flyers at the Winter Classic in Philadelphia.
The assist was the first point since Oct. 29 for Wolski, who returned to the lineup this week after missing two months due to injury -- he was in the lineup because Brandon Dubinsky missed his second game with a shoulder injury.
Brian Boyle made it 2-0 at 16:28 with a seeing-eye shot that beat Gustavsson through traffic. It was Boyle's third goal of the season. Brandon Prust drew the primary assist.
Gustavsson kept the Leafs in the game late in the period when he kicked out his right pad to deny a deflection off Michael Del Zotto's point shot.
"Playing back to back, you gotta fight, you gotta step up and especially as a goalie, be ready for anything. I think we tried to play as simple as we could.” said Gustavsson who stopped 27 shots in the second of back to back starts -- he was in goal for Friday's 3-2 loss at Buffalo.
"This is one of those games, you probably need to get the first goal to get the momentum. ... They got the first one and then they played a pretty solid game; they made it tough for us.”
Meanwhile, the Rangers made life easy on their goaltender through 40 minutes, limiting the Leafs to just 12 shots.
"We've played that way as of late," Biron said of his team's stifling defensive effort. "We haven't been giving up a lot and teams like Toronto that don't like to shoot a lot from the outside, they like to make plays, it becomes hard for them."
"The first period, there was no shots for the longest time, it was that kind of game. Torts wanted us to play really tight defensively and I think we did that and it was the key for us”
Stepan's goal 6:01 into the third period removed any doubt about the outcome and Biron had a big part in setting up the scoring play -- he came out of the crease and fired the puck off the left boards to Carl Hagelin in the neutral zone. Hagelin crossed the Toronto blue line and feathered a pass to Stepan, coming late, and the second-year center beat Gustavsson with a nice forehand deke for his 10th of the season. With the goal, Stepan earned his first multi-point performance of 2012 and finished the night with first star honors with a goal and an assist.
From the early stages of the first period it was becoming apparent that the Rangers' game plan was twofold: Stop the Leafs from using their speed by utilizing an aggressive forecheck and hit their key players at every opportunity.
A little over five minutes into the game, two Rangers converged on Joffrey Lupul as he tried to play the puck behind his own net, Boyle then hammered linemate Phil Kessel as he received the pass. Del Zotto also nailed Boyce was nailed as he was skating off after a shift.
Lupul and Kessel each finished with a minus-2 rating; neither registered a shot on goal.
"We were just, it seemed all night, about half a foot behind," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "We needed our speed in order to compete with them. They didn't allow us to get some speed in some situations.
Although the first period ended scoreless, the Rangers had set the tone, being credited with 27 hits to eight for Toronto -- the final margin was closer, at 48-39.
"We didn't bring the body like we wanted to last game. We wanted to do that tonight; we knew that they played last night," said center Brad Richards who won 13 of 21 faceoffs. "If we come out and move our legs and hit or get hit early, we knew we'd have a chance to wear them down.”
On Sunday the Rangers will complete a stretch of three games in four nights with a visit to Montreal. Toronto, which began a five-game homestand, is off until Ottawa comes to the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.