TORONTO - Going inside after the Winter Classic snapped the Maple Leafs' winning streak in a painful way.
They were thankful for the return to normalcy, but the first game back at Air Canada Centre was a disaster for Toronto. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was pulled for the first time this season, two players left with injuries and the New York Rangers hammered the Leafs 7-1 Saturday night.
The loss snapped the Leafs' streak at three and represented a major pitfall for Bernier, who was playing so well coach Randy Carlyle conceded he entertained thoughts about naming him the No. 1 goaltender. Bernier gave up five goals on 32 shots before getting the hook in favour of James Reimer, who hadn't played since being yanked Dec. 21.
Reimer didn't fare much better, giving up two goals on 18 shots.
From a long-term viewpoint, the worst part of the defeat could stem from injuries to defenceman Carl Gunnarsson and winger David Clarkson. Gunnarsson suffered an upper-body injury on a hit from Carl Hagelin only minutes after Clarkson blocked a shot with his left foot and hobbled to the bench.
It was 1-0 Rangers at the time thanks to Hagelin's deflection goal. New York later poured it on with two goals from Dominic Moore and one each from Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kreider, Brad Richards and Brian Boyle.
Those opportunities were plentiful even before many of the 19,362 fans even got settled in to their seats. James van Riemsdyk got it started with a rush down the left wing and shot on Talbot 19 seconds in, and Phil Kessel missed the net on a rapid-fire rebound.
Roughly 20 seconds later, Rangers forward Kreider hit the post behind Bernier and the puck slid across the goal line and to Rick Nash, who fumbled it and couldn't put it in the empty net.
Still, it didn't take long for the Rangers to get on the board, doing so at the 6:57 mark. Sparked by a turnover from Leafs defenceman Cody Franson, New York's Dan Girardi got off a point shot that Hagelin deflected past Bernier.
The Leafs had chances to get back into it in the first, courtesy of Colton Orr and Lupul. Bernier was strong throughout, until the Rangers got a two-goal lead 15:57 in.
Again a Leafs turnover got things going, this time by Paul Ranger, but Bernier was to blame for Moore's first goal of the night. Moore shot from a bad angle, and the puck went five hole and in for one of the worst goals Bernier has given up this season.
The Rangers weren't done, though their third goal at 10:39 of the second was more a product of perfect, tic-tac-toe passing than a total breakdown by the Leafs. Derick Brassard found an open Marc Staal, who got Bernier to commit just enough to give Pouliot a wide-open net to hit.
Exactly four minutes later Kreider blew past Franson to make it 4-0, but Carlyle didn't flinch. Bernier had stopped 181 of 190 shots in his previous five appearances since replacing Reimer two weeks ago.
Once Moore made it 5-0 at 16:35 of the second, Carlyle pulled the plug on Bernier's night as boos rained down from the crowd. Reimer, was pulled from four of his 18 starts this year, got a hearty round of applause as he skated to the net.
The switch looked like it provided the Leafs with at least a little bit of a jump-start. Just 67 seconds after Reimer entered the game, Lupul roofed a shot past Talbot to cut the deficit to four goals.
Carlyle juggled his lines in the third period, and the Leafs showed flashes of promise but couldn't cash in. Then Richards made it 6-1 9:03 into the third, skating down the right wing and beating Reimer.
With Franson in the penalty box, Boyle added the seventh goal by taking a pass from Michael Del Zotto and tapping it in at the 16:04 mark.
It looked like New York would have an eighth, but it was disallowed because Boyle interfered with Reimer.
This was the first time this season the Rangers scored at least six goals and the first time the Leafs allowed seven.
NOTES — Newly acquired defenceman Tim Gleason was a healthy scratch as Carlyle stuck with the same lineup from the Winter Classic. Gleason took warm-ups, but Carlyle announced Saturday morning that the former Carolina Hurricanes blue-liner would not play unless their was a late injury or illness. ... Talbot got the start after Henrik Lundqvist played Friday night in Pittsburgh and allowed five goals in a loss to the Penguins.
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