TORONTO -- The New York Rangers created some more space for themselves in this heated race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Blueshirts rebounded from a 4-1 loss to Buffalo on Friday and skated away with a 4-3 shootout victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. Combined with Pittsburgh's 8-4 loss at Ottawa, the Rangers now have a three-point lead on the Pens atop the East.
Ryan Callahan wristed a shot high stick side over Jonas Gustavsson in the third round of the shootout to win the game for the Blueshirts, prompting a fist pump from Rangers general manager Glen Sather, who was with New York's brass in a private suite.
A day after scoring the shootout winner in New Jersey, Nazem Kadri, the Maple Leafs' third shooter, missed an opportunity to put Toronto up 2-1 prior to Callahan's winner. Unlike Friday night, where Kadri faked the backhand before pulling over to the forehand, went with the initial move Saturday.
"I saw (Kadri's) move yesterday," said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who got enough of Kadri's shot to deflect it high over the net. "Last night when I got in, I watched the shootout just in case I faced him today. I tried to fake him a little bit with the stick to make him make a move, (and) it worked, I guess. He made a good move, but the puck rolled on him."
"We kept battling back, killed some huge penalties, played the way we usually do," said Richards, who had previously not scored in the shootout this season. "I wanted to score. I haven't had that much trouble in the six years we've had them or whatever it's been. I wanted to get out of it (the shootout slump)."
Callahan and Kadri, both key players in the shootout, had chances to end the game in overtime.
Midway through the extra session, Callahan could not jam the puck by Gustavsson at the side of the Toronto net despite having several whacks at it after being set up by Brandon Dubinsky.
Later, Kadri was set up in front of the Rangers' net by Dion Phaneuf, but Lundqvist steered his attempt wide as the clock expired.
Prior to the game, Rangers coach John Tortorella spoke about trying to get Lundqvist into a groove as the playoffs approach. The Rangers' goaltender stopped 22 of 25 shots after coming off a loss on Friday night.
"The last few weeks, it's been (just) OK. I haven't played great," said Lundqvist. "Going from OK to great, that is sometimes the difference between winning and losing."
Marian Gaborik scored his second of two goals to temporarily put the Rangers up 3-2 just over four minutes into the third period. He was set up beautifully by Richards, who faked a pass to Carl Hagelin and in stride pulled back and sent the puck the other way behind two Leafs to Gaborik for his 37th goal of the season.
"I knew he was going. I was just buying time so he could beat the guy," said Richards, who had two assists. "I wanted to go there the whole time, but if I throw it there right away, it's not going to get to him. I had to give him time to take off and his first two strides are the best in the League. I tried to get it timed where he could beat the guy to the net and he did a great job burying it."
Tortorella spoke glowingly about the set up on the scoring play.
"It was probably one of the greatest goals I have seen as far as what Richie did at that blue line," the coach said. "To stay on side, get a puck and then saucer one to Gabby, it's just one hell of a goal."
The Rangers' first lead of the game was short-lived as Connolly tied the game just 19 after Gaborik made it 3-2, depositing Joey Crabb's rebound into the back of the net behind Lundqvist. Crabb skated into the slot with a head of steam and let go a hard shot, which caught Lundqvist in the chest. The rebound came out in front of the net to Connolly, who was able to tally his 12th goal of the season.
After not having taken a penalty through two periods, the Rangers were called for three consecutive infractions in the third. Their ability to kill off each man advantage was a major factor in the victory according to Tortorella.
"That was key -- that is what I liked best about tonight's game," he said. "I thought we were ugly as hell through a number of minutes. We have a lot of things to work on, but killing penalties, blocking shots … (that's how) we found a way to win a road game."
Toronto opened the scoring when Cody Franson tapped home his fifth goal of the season at 9:11 of the opening period to complete a 2-on-1 with Phil Kessel. The speedy forward brought the puck into the Rangers' zone and had only young defenseman Tim Erixon between himself and the pinching Franson. Kessel was able to make a backhand pass by Erixon and over to Franson, who got it past Lundqvist for his first goal in 14 games.
Gaborik, however, tied it just over three minutes later, when his floater from the left-wing boards found its way past Gustavsson after Richards won a faceoff in the Maple Leafs' zone.
Toronto regained the lead at 6:53 of the second period. Phaneuf's point shot was deflected down by David Steckel past Rangers defenders Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh and right to Crabb, who was alone in front. The 28-year old Alaskan had no trouble sliding it by Lundqvist for his 10th of the season to make it 2-1.
Despite being thwarted earlier in the period, Dubinsky evened things up at 15:29 of the second.
After the Rangers won another draw in the Leafs' end, Dubinsky went to the net and was able to pounce on a loose puck and get one by Gustavsson. It was snake-bitten forwards' ninth of the season and fourth point over the last four games. Former Maple Leafs forward John Mitchell got the lone assist, doing yeoman's work as he created the opportunity by throwing his body around in the crease and wreaking havoc on the Maple Leafs' defense.
With the overtime Loss, Gustavsson's winless streak at the ACC has been prolonged. His last victory on home ice was Jan. 23 against the Islanders. He finished with 30 saves Saturday night.
"He gave us a chance and that's what we ask of both of our goaltenders," said Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle. "I thought our team in general played one of the better games that we've played in a while."