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Komarov completes Maple Leafs rally past Rangers

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO – The ear-to-ear smile said it all for Leo Komarov.

The affable 27-year-old grinder set up a shorthanded goal by Peter Holland and then scored the game-winning goal -- his first of the season -- when the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the New York Rangers 5-4 at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

"It's a good feeling," said Komarov, who scored with 5:34 remaining. "I had some good chances last game too, but couldn't score. It's still in your head when you have zero goals after 13 games, so this feels good."

This is Komarov's second go-round with the Maple Leafs. He spent the 2012-13 season with Toronto, scoring four goals and nine points in 42 games, but played the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. Komarov signed a four-year contract to return to the Maple Leafs this summer.

"He's a guy who always has a smile on his face and he has a different sense of humor," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "He speaks about five different languages and he mumbles in all of them. He's just a funny guy and a good guy to be around and he plays hard for his team."

Komarov is a heavy hitter and a fan favorite in Toronto.

"He's a more confident player than he was in his first season here," Carlyle said. "It seems like he's a lot more confident with the puck now. He blocks shots, he takes the body, he plays in dirty areas, and he's hard to play against."

On the winning goal, Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner picked off a clearing attempt by New York defenseman Matt Hunwick and relayed the puck to Komarov in the slot, where he beat goalie Cam Talbot.

The victory evened Toronto's home record at 4-4-0. It plays a rescheduled game at the Ottawa Senators on Sunday and then will host the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

The Rangers scored 53 seconds into the game with their first shot on goal. Chris Kreider tipped a Kevin Klein shot past a screened Jonathan Bernier. It was Kreider's fourth goal of the season.

With the Rangers two men short, the Maple Leafs tied it at 8:27. Phil Kessel scored his eighth goal of the season on a cross-ice pass from left wing James van Riemsdyk.

Peter Holland gave Toronto a 2-1 lead when he took a drop pass from Komarov and deked Talbot, scoring shorthanded at 15:11. It was Holland's second goal of the season.

Richard Panik stuffed a rebound past Talbot to make it 3-1 for Toronto at 18:59; 21 seconds later Mats Zuccarello's shot found its way between the legs of Bernier.

The second period was fast-paced and wide open with each team producing quality scoring chances, but it wasn't until 17:44 that Carl Hagelin took advantage of a Maple Leafs turnover and slipped a shot past Bernier to make it 3-3.

The Rangers regained the lead at 4:33 of the third period when Martin St. Louis' strong forechecking led to a goal by Rick Nash, his 11th of the season. St. Louis retrieved the puck and passed to Nash, who was in front of the net to shoot past Bernier.

Toronto tied the game 2:54 later when Nazem Kadri slipped a pass back to Roman Polak at the right point and his floater found its way through a crowd past Talbot.

"I think at the end of the day we need a better commitment to playing a solid, two-way game," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Offensively we're obviously getting some good looks, but we need to tighten up things defensively, and I think a lot of that starts with our forwards getting available a little better on the right side of the play.

"On their winning goal, if you look at it, they almost have a 4-on-0 on our goaltender. There were some people missing there."

The Rangers had won 69 straight games, and gotten a point in 91 straight (90-0-1), when scoring at least four goals.

"This is the NHL and the Maple Leafs have got a good team and they can score a lot of goals," Vigneault said. "You would think four goals on the road would be enough to win, but it wasn't enough tonight."

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