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Rangers edge Maple Leafs for ninth consecutive win

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello remained hot to help the New York Rangers accomplish something they hadn't done in more than 42 years.

Zuccarello scored the winning goal off a rebound at 19:04 of the third period after assisting on two others to help the Rangers extend their winning streak to nine games with a 4-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

The Rangers (14-2-2) hadn't won nine consecutive games since the 1972-73 season (Jan. 19-Feb. 10). They can tie their record for longest winning streak when they play the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday.

New York is 11-0-2 in its past 13 games.

"We've got nine [wins] in a row right now and you feel it in the room, everyone is comfortable, it's not that tight," Zuccarello said. "I have some good bounces going in right now. Hopefully it's going to last. We are nine wins in a row right now and that's the most important thing."

Zuccarello admitted to his confidence never being higher at any point in his NHL career. He has 12 points in the past eight games, dating to his hat trick against Toronto at The Garden on Oct. 30. He leads New York with 18 points through 18 games.

Prior to scoring the winner against Toronto, Zuccarello assisted on goals by defenseman Ryan McDonagh 44 seconds into the second period and center Derick Brassard at 3:37 of the third.

"You've gotta enjoy it while it lasts," Zuccarello said of his hot streak.

Center Derek Stepan scored at 13:55 of the second period on what was essentially a dump-in from center ice.

Stepan called Zuccarello his favorite player after he had three points in their 6-3 win against the St. Louis Blues last Thursday. Stepan tacked on to his praise following the win Sunday.

"I don't know if there is a guy playing better hockey right now in the NHL than Mats Zuccarello," Stepan said.

Rangers goalie Antti Raanta made 23 saves and is 4-0-0 this season.

The Rangers have set franchise records for wins (14) and points (30) through the first 18 games of a season. They moved ahead of the Montreal Canadiens and Dallas Stars for first place in the NHL standings. Montreal and Dallas have 28 points through 18 games.

"With the bounces we're getting right now, it's nice," Zuccarello said. "We're going on a road trip now and it's going to be a couple of tough games coming up, but we feel good in the room and hopefully we can keep going."

The Maple Leafs (5-9-4) had their three-game winning streak end. They lost in regulation for the first time in six games.

Forwards Peter Holland and Joffrey Lupul, and defenseman Dion Phaneuf scored for Toronto. Maple Leafs center Byron Froese had two assists. Goalie Jonathan Bernier made 26 saves.

"We had got points in quite a few games, but to drop this one tonight [is disappointing], especially the way we did at the end there, when we thought we had the game well in control," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said.

Babcock started Bernier for the first time since Oct. 31, hoping that he would be able to regain the confidence he lost through his 0-6-1 start to the season that was sidetracked by a lower-body injury that forced him to miss four games earlier this month.

Bernier instead allowed an 86-foot goal by Stepan and gave up the winning goal to Zuccarello on a rebound he left in the slot because he couldn't control McDonagh's floater from the left point.

"I gave a bad rebound and lost the two points," Bernier said. "I know this team has been playing really good while I was hurt, but I let them down tonight."

Asked about his confidence level in Bernier, Babcock responded by saying James Reimer will start against the Colorado Avalanche at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.

Reimer started the previous seven games before Sunday, going 4-1-2 with a 1.81 GAA and .945 save percentage during that stretch.

"The bottom line is we're in the winning business," Babcock said. "You've gotta earn your own confidence. That's how the League is."

Zuccarello certainly has done that. It's a big reason why the Rangers have won nine in a row for the first time in more than four decades.

"You ask any forward, they go through stretches where they're really feeling it and things seem to be happening the way you see it, and right now that's the way it is with [Zuccarello]," McDonagh said. "You get him the puck and he's making high percentage plays, sometimes the play no one else can make."

"He's playing real well and his enthusiasm is contagious," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "There's no doubt he is well liked and well respected by his teammates, and I think everyone is happy that he's playing so well right now."

Prior to the game, there was a moment of silence to honor the victims of the attacks in Paris on Friday.

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