The Rangers had spent the weekend celebrating the 1994 Stanley Cup Champions, an unforgettable reunion of those who put together that unforgettable season. As usual, one of the loudest welcomes from the Garden crowd was for Mike Richter, the Rangers legend who amassed 342 wins in the regular season and playoffs, backstopped that '94 team to the Cup and whose No. 35 hangs beside three of his title-winning teammates from the Garden ceiling.
Not even Richter - and not even Henrik Lundqvist or any of the Rangers' other goaltending greats - ever took the ice beneath that famous ceiling and made as many saves as Alexandar Georgiev did on Sunday night.
Video: TOR@NYR: Georgiev sets new career high on birthday
The Rangers' rookie goaltender stared down one of the NHL's top teams on Sunday, when the Maple Leafs peppered his goal with 56 shots and Georgiev turned away all but one. It was a dazzling performance utilizing every piece of his equipment, a career high for the rookie in saves and his second victory on the Rangers' five-game homestand that they wrapped up with a 4-1 victory over Toronto.
And it took place on not just any day.
"It was a special birthday," said Georgiev, who turned 23 on Sunday. "I tried not to concentrate on the birthday wishes, I had an important game in front of me. I'm very happy that it ended the way it ended."
Video: TOR@NYR: Vesey finishes nice passing play on rush
It ended with a win thanks in part to support from Jimmy Vesey, who broke a 1-1 tie with a first-period goal that David Quinn called a "big-time goal" and one that Georgiev and Co. would make stand up. Mika Zibanejad scored his 23rd of the season - and his 11th in his last 10 games - and Adam McQuaid scored for the second time during this homestand before Kevin Hayes hit an empty net to seal matters. Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello each chipped in a pair of assists.
Video: TOR@NYR: Georgiev lays out to stifle Tavares in front
Georgiev, though, was the showstopper. He stopped 21 shots in the first period, and 17 in each of the second and third. Only Kasperi Kapanen got one past him on a first-period breakaway. Nazem Kadri had 12 shots by himself, denied every time, and Georgiev spent much of his evening torturing John Tavares, among whose eight shots came several sparkling chances, but who by the final minutes of the third was staring up in the direction of Richter's banner and shaking his head in frustration at the end of a minus-3 night.
Richter still holds the Rangers record with a 59-save game in Vancouver on Jan. 31, 1991, also his rookie season, but this was a Garden record for saves by Ranger goaltender, a stat that was first tracked in 1955-56. And because Richter's game went overtime - the reward that night for 59 saves was a 3-3 tie with the Canucks - this also was a Rangers record for a 60-minute game.
"He was awesome all night," said Marc Staal. "Saw a lot of attempts, saw a lot of rubber. He just played really well and I am really happy for him."
"He played outstanding," echoed Quinn. "He's gotten better and better. That game against the Bruins he played really well, and obviously tonight was our best penalty-killer."
That was an important distinction, because it was on the Maple Leafs' four power plays in the game that they truly poured on the pressure - in those four man-advantages, eight minutes in all, they had a mind-boggling 23 shots on goal. When the game was played 5-on-5 though, the Rangers to a man were confident they had played a strong game against what Quinn called "a scary, scary team."
Noting the visitors' outsize shot total, Quinn said: "This is going to sound insane: I thought we actually defended pretty well tonight.
"I mean, they have high-end talent, they can beat you 1-on-1, but boy, I thought we did a good job of clearing the net front out. … I thought we defended well. I know I sound crazy saying that, but I don't remember a lot of second chances. I thought a lot of the shots were perimeter and we contested them."
"It's nice to have two goalies that can win games for us like that," said Zuccarello, whose assists made it 17 points in his last 11 games. "But at the same time, I think 5-on-5 we played a really good game."
The victory gave the Rangers points in three of their last four games on this homestand (2-1-1). Coming off a disappointing loss on Friday's '94 celebration night and knowing the Maple Leafs had played in Montreal the night before, "you try to jump on them right away," Zibanejad said.
Video: TOR@NYR: Zibanejad stakes Rangers to early lead
It took the Rangers' top center all of 28 seconds to do just that, sweeping home a third-chance goal after his wingers, Zuccarello and Kreider, jumped Morgan Rielly to force a turnover and Sparks had made the initial two stops on Zuccarello.
Just minutes later Georgiev made seven saves on the Leafs' first power play of the game, including his first couple of robberies on Tavares. It told Quinn that "Georgie was feeling it right from the get-go," and Staal said this was certainly one of the more talented power play the Rangers have faced this season.
"We talked a lot before, we changed some things during, and it just seemed like you take one thing away from them, they have other plays that open up for them and they have guys that can make those plays," said Staal, who led the Rangers playing 5:22 shorthanded as the Leafs finished 0-for-4. "Laid a goose egg on them, and obviously a big part was Georgie."
Kapanen picked off a pass at the Toronto line and raced in alone at even strength to tie it 10:35 in, and after Georgiev made four more stops on the Leafs' second power play, including one with his helmet, Kreider burst out of the penalty box and joined a rush, taking a dish from Ryan Strome and then feeding across the zone to Vesey, who whipped his 12th goal into the top netting at 14:05.
With the 2-1 score carrying into the third, McQuaid, the sturdy blueliner not known for his scoring, provided insurance with 8:01 to play, a seeing-eye shot from the blue line that was strikingly similar to his last goal, which came last Monday against L.A. McQuaid now has two goals in four games after going nearly a year without one.
Video: TOR@NYR: McQuaid capitalizes on turnover to pad lead
"Keep shootin', Adam, keep shootin'," Quinn said.
But McQuaid also displayed some of his more familiar attributes during his 19:15 of ice, including laying his body in front of back-to-back blasts Jake Muzzin as the clock ticked under 5½ minutes, two of the Rangers' 18 blocks on the night. They helped carry the two-goal lead into the final minute, when Hayes deposited his 13th goal into a vacated Leafs net.
And so the Rangers say goodbye to the Garden for the next 10 days and head to Winnipeg on a high note, preparing to face a strong Western Conference team after beating a strong one from the East.
"That's a really good team out there with a lot of skill," Zuccarello said of the Maple Leafs. "The D and Georgie and everyone played a really, really solid game. I think at the end of the day we deserved this win."