Rangers jump out to early lead, and after Bozak ties it, Blueshirts re-take lead late in first. The Rangers came into the ACC looking to avenge a 4-2 loss to the Leafs Jan. 13, and the visitors jumped out to an early lead at the 6:42 mark of the first period on Brady Skjei's second goal of the season. However, Toronto evened the score less than four minutes later, when, after just missed beating Blueshirts goalie Henrik Lundqvist with a shot of his own, winger Mitch Marner followed the play behind the net and connected with linemate Tyler Bozak driving toward the net for Bozak's 11th goal of the year (and Marner's team-leading 27th assist of the season).
However, after Bozak's goal at 10:16 of the first, the Rangers - who outshot the Leafs 19-9 in the first 20 minutes - continued applying pressure and re-established the lead at 14:44 of the frame on a scramble in front of Buds netminder Frederik Andersen that ended with rookie winger Pavel Buchnevich knocking in his sixth of the year. The Leafs had a number of chances against Lundqvist, but they also failed to limit offensive opportunities for the Rangers, and the veteran New York squad took advantage of them.
Marner just misses on a partial breakaway, and Blueshirts use crisp transition game immediately after to take two-goal lead. The Leafs started the second period looking determined to tie the score and were better on individual puck battles along the walls, but after Marner just missed beating Lundqvist on a partial breakaway, the Rangers used their solid transition game to immediately move the play back to Toronto's end - and that's where winger J.T. Miller scored his 15th of the year to make it 3-1 at 9:02.
The Buds have an above-average transition game themselves, but they were too willing to trade chances with the Rangers, and without blueline cornerstone Morgan Rielly in the lineup due to an injury, their failure to tighten their game up came back to bite them.
Video: NYR@TOR: Hyman picks Clendening's pocket for SHG
Hyman puts on a penalty kill forechecking clinic, cuts Rangers' lead to one goal late in middle frame. The Rangers continued to outshoot the Leafs in the second period, firing another 16 shots at Andersen and forcing Toronto to take two more penalties in the frame. However, winger Zach Hyman was all over the Blueshirts on the penalty kill: he stripped the puck from defenseman Adam Clendening, then beat Lundqvist for his sixth goal of the year at the 16:02 mark.
Hyman's marker brought Toronto within a goal of evening things up again, and gave his team a positive charge entering the final period of regulation. But the Leafs' discipline needed improvement in the final 20 minutes to give them a chance to tie the score and send the game to extra time.
Leafs' power play comes up short, surrenders shorthanded marker for Rangers' fourth goal. Toronto had some urgency to their game in the third, as they outshot the Blueshirts 5-2 through the first 15 minutes and earned their second power play of the night. Unfortunately for Leafs Nation, the Rangers capitalized on a Buds turnover and got the puck to winger Michael Grabner, who broke in alone on Andersen and scored his 20th goal of the year to restore New York's two-goal lead.
The Leafs' power play has been stellar of late - to the point where it was the second-best in the league entering Thursday's action - but it finished the evening 0-for-2. Attention to detail wasn't always there, and they did come close to scoring on a couple occasions, but in the planet's best hockey league, that isn't enough.
Grabner's empty-netter seals the win for Blueshirts. Andersen was pulled in favour of the extra attacker late in the third, but the Rangers weren't to be denied on this night - and Grabner's empty-net marker at 16:03 locked up the victory for his team.
The Leafs won't have much time to ponder this loss, as their four-game homestand continues Saturday with an important divisional showdown against the Ottawa Senators. The Buds haven't lost two or more consecutive games since a three-game losing streak from Dec. 11-15, and Toronto fans can expect head coach Mike Babcock & Co. to do their best to ensure the Leafs get back in the win column.