NEW YORK -- The Toronto Maple Leafs
let themselves get comfortable with a lead on two occasions on Monday night, but they still found a way to survive a strong push from the red-hot New York Rangers
The Leafs' three-goal lead early in the second period was whittled to one, then they found themselves protecting that lead with the Rangers attacking at 6-on-4 in the final minute. Despite all that, the Leafs got an empty-net goal with 5.6 seconds remaining to salt away a 4-2 victory at Madison Square Garden that ended the Rangers' five-game winning streak.
A penalty to the Rangers' Artem Anisimov
with 2:49 left in regulation appeared to be the back-breaker, but the Leafs' Clarke MacArthur
took a high-sticking penalty 1:19 later to give the Rangers a power play in the final seconds that nearly led to the tying goal.
"It kind of looked like we had the game sealed away," said Joffrey Lupul
, whose power-play goal proved to be the winner. "They took a penalty and it looked like it would be an easy last couple minutes for us. Then all of a sudden, we found ourselves down 6-on-4. I thought it was a great job by our penalty killers and goalie to hold the fort, because that's not easy when the win is looking pretty much secured and you find yourself down 6-on-4 for 45 seconds at the end of the game."
The Rangers have just two regulation losses at home this season, both to the Leafs.
The speed of Toronto proved to be a problem for the Rangers, who were caught standing still at times and were overmatched early by the Leafs' top line of Phil Kessel
, Tyler Bozak
and Lupul. The trio was on the ice for two of the Leafs' first three goals and combined for 11 shots.
"Tonight, we weren't moving our feet in the first period," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan
said. "It wasn't a matter of us not being able to handle their speed, but it was a matter of us not being able to do what we do best, which is countering that speed and taking the body. We gave them too much room in the first period."
"We knew they had good speed," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi
said. "We were a little slow out there but we were only down one goal. We were still in the game, and I think we were better after that."
The Leafs grabbed a 1-0 lead at 6:01 of the first period when a heavy shot from defenseman Cody Franson
glanced off the hip of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
and into the net. Kessel started the play near the blue line by threading a pass through two defenders and onto the tape of a cutting John-Michael Liles
, who dropped the puck to his defense partner at the top of the circles.
The Rangers controlled the face-off circle all night, winning 57 percent of draws. But a faceoff deep in the Rangers' zone early in the second period that was credited as a face-off win for the Leafs led to the game's second goal.
yanked the puck back to Michael Sauer
, but he was unable to control the puck in skates. The Leafs' Matt Frattin
jarred the puck loose for Tim Connolly
-- technically the winner of that faceoff -- to jam through Lundqvist to make it 2-0 at 5:12 of the second period.
Ninety-seven seconds later, with Anisimov in the box for hooking, Lupul finished a nice pass from Bozak at the top of the crease to score his 13th goal of the season and give the Leafs a 3-0 lead.
The Rangers cut the lead to 3-2 with two goals in 1:32 later in the period, but Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson
was perfect for the remainder of the game. He made 30 saves and two big ones in the final minute of regulation on Brad Richards
Leafs coach Ron Wilson knows how special it is to win at Madison Square Garden this season.
"I know we're the only team that's won in regulation here, and we've done it twice," Wilson said. "For whatever reason, we've played well here. We used our speed, got the lead and defended well."
The Rangers won the hitting battle 41-27, but the biggest hit was registered by Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf
late in the third period.
Sauer was skating with his head down and took a clean hit from Phaneuf that sent him to the ice. It appeared that Sauer hit his head on the boards after his helmet became dislodged. Rangers coach John Tortorella said he was being evaluated and thought there was nothing illegal about the hit.
"I don't think we were that physical until the end of the game and we got some big bangs obviously when Dion hit a guy as hard as he did," Wilson said.
Gustavsson said he didn't take any extra satisfaction out of beating fellow Swede Henrik Lundqvist
for the second time this season.
"As long as we take two points, it doesn't matter if it's Lundqvist or another guy," Gustavsson said. "It's always fun to play against him. They almost came back from a big lead but we played really well."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo