NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers returned to their locker room after one period against the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night down two goals. They were teetering on the precipice of a 1-4-0 start to the season, their worst since starting 0-4-1 in 1998-99.
Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist allowed two goals on three shots, while Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer was flawless during a 14-save first period. The two huge gaffes that led to the goals in an otherwise dominant period could've left the Rangers frustrated.
Instead, the Rangers were rewarded for never wavering.
Marian Gaborik, Marc Staal and Brian Boyle combined for four goals in the third period as the Rangers squeezed the life out of a weary-looking Maple Leafs team over the final 40 minutes in a 5-2 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Rangers coach John Tortorella didn't peal the paint off the walls with a fiery speech during the first intermission. Instead, the Rangers stuck with the game plan and eventually overwhelmed the Maple Leafs with both teams playing their third games in four nights.
"We had a lot of shots. We created a lot of offense and a lot of pressure in their end zone," Staal said. "We knew it was just a matter of time before they started going in for us, so we stayed at it, didn't get frustrated and ended up with a good win."
After looking sluggish in a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, Tortorella gave his team a full day of rest Friday. It paid off Saturday -- the Maple Leafs found themselves chasing the puck all night, a problem that seemed to grow exponentially as the game continued.
"I think the day off yesterday helped to kind of recharge our batteries," Staal said. "I thought we had a lot more jump today and the forecheck was better. We were just all over those loose pucks and winning races we didn't win last game. It was good for us to get on the right track."
A point of pride for the Rangers last season was their physical fitness level, a direct result of Tortorella's grueling training camp. It helped result in a record of 10-2-2 in the second half of back-to-back games last season, but without that full training camp this year, the energy appeared to be lacking in Philadelphia on Thursday.
Last season, the Rangers also excelled when playing their third game in four nights, going 11-3-0 in back end of those contests. Though they aren't quite at last season's levels in terms of conditioning, Boyle said they are where they need to be mentally for this compacted season.
"I think we just come in with an attitude or a bit of a strut," Boyle said. "Obviously camp was grueling in the past and it prepares us physically great for an 82-game season. But I think a big part of that, too, is the mental toughness aspect of it that, you can't tell yourself you're tired. You have to tell yourself you can get through it. Not only that, but thrive and play really well."
A Rangers breakdown led to Mikhail Grabovski's goal at 6:25 of the first period.
It started with a turnover along the boards by defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played it right to Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulemin. A quick pass was made to a cutting John-Michael Liles that drew both McDonagh and defense partner Dan Girardi. Liles slid the puck to a wide-open Grabovski, who calmly backhanded the shot past a helpless to Lundqvist to make it 1-0.
With 2:45 remaining in the period, James van Riemsdyk scored on the Maple Leafs' third shot of the period, which was off a rebound of the second shot from Liles. The power-play goal was the result of a too many men on the ice penalty.
The Rangers were booed of the ice, but the mood in the locker room was positive.
"I think it's important that we had so many games last year where we played well," Lundqvist said. "Maybe we don't get the goals, but we stick to our game plan, and we did that and it paid off."
It still took a while for that confidence to translate into victory. Brad Richards tapped home a rebound to pull the Rangers to within 2-1 at 5:43 of the second period, but that was all Reimer would allow through 40 minutes. He made 24 of 25 saves through two periods.
Marc Staal ripped a one-timer past Reimer at 7:36 of the third period to tie the game. Marian Gaborik redirected a Staal blast past Reimer to put the Rangers ahead for good a little more than five minutes later. Boyle added some insurance with a deflection goal with 2:52 remaining, and Gaborik put his fifth of the season into an empty net with 1:15 left.
The Rangers' top line of Gaborik, Richards and Rick Nash combined for eight points (Gaborik had four) and was on the ice for four of the team's five goals.
After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the Rangers entered this season with designs on taking the next step. Sitting at 2-3-0, they know there is more work to be done.
"I would say mentally it's good to put a win together here, but we need a couple to get us back to .500 and get us back to the top half of the conference here," Girardi said. "We're going to take this now and enjoy it a bit here and know we have to keep on getting better. We're still not where we need to be. But I think for the most part tonight, we played a pretty solid 60 minutes."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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