Rangers coach Tom Renney showed a rare terse side after his slumping club rescued one key point in the standings, but failed to secure the second one in overtime.
While New York needs wins down the stretch to ensure a fourth straight playoff appearance, Renney was at least willing to settle for something. After all, with under a minute to go, the Rangers were primed for yet another empty defeat.
Michal Rozsival forced overtime by scoring with 39.1 seconds left in regulation, but Niklas Hagman’s power-play goal three minutes into the extra session snapped the Maple Leafs’ losing streak, delivered the latest blow to the Rangers’ sinking playoff chances, and gave Toronto a 3-2 victory Sunday night.
“It was an important goal and obviously an important point,” said Renney, who again heard fans call for him and general manager Glen Sather to be fired. “The fact that we got ourselves into that bind and got ourselves out of it is something to look at and build upon. It’s pretty clear the team is not quitting. I think that’s pretty important.”
Pavel Kubina took a pass from Hagman and fired a drive that Hagman tipped past goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Toronto earned the power play when Blair Betts hooked Hagman 2:07 into the extra session.
Rozsival, who earlier in the night gave up his No. 3 as it was raised to the rafters in honour of former defenceman Harry Howell, broke in his new No. 33 in style. With the Rangers enjoying a skating advantage after Lundqvist was pulled, Rozsival threaded a shot inside the right post from the slot.
“It is frustrating,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “You get close and then the other team ties it. You’re looking at overtime and I’m just dreading getting into a shootout.”
He didn’t have to worry.
Vesa Toskala gave up two Toronto leads but finished with 39 saves. Ian White was set to have the winning goal until Rozsival tied it.
Again failing to capitalize on a pre-game ceremony honouring players from the past, the Rangers showed little ability to generate offence and lost for the 10th time in 12 games (2-7-3). They are 2-3-2 in games following jersey retirement festivities, including a 2-1 shootout loss to Atlanta after Adam Graves’ No. 9 was retired on Feb. 3.
New York is in a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, yet is only two points ahead of ninth-place Carolina. The Rangers, who have 21 games left, are 13 points ahead of Toronto.
“It was a tough loss,” Rangers captain Chris Drury said. “Toskala was playing well. We couldn’t get anything by him. A couple of mistakes, and we lost in OT.”
The teams were scoreless entering the third period, but John Mitchell broke the deadlock with his fifth goal and gave the Maple Leafs a lead at 3:54.
Frustrated fans at Madison Square Garden, who earlier in the evening celebrated the jersey retirement ceremonies of Howell (No. 3) and forward Andy Bathgate (No. 9), quickly got a chance to be excited about the current team when Scott Gomez tied it 1:59 later.
The goal announcement hadn’t been completed before White restored Toronto’s lead after just 25 seconds had elapsed.
Toskala started for the second straight day after he missed two games due to tests on his hip and groin. He took the home shootout loss against Vancouver on Saturday but was back to help the Maple Leafs snap their three-game losing streak (0-1-2). Toronto has two wins in seven games (2-2-3).
Kubina and Lee Stempniak each had three assists.
“I took a few shots,” Kubina said of the winning goal sequence. “It doesn’t matter. We got two points.”
Despite the Maple Leafs spending large chunks of time in the Rangers’ zone, New York outshot Toronto 19-5 in the second period. The Rangers recorded seven shots during their two power plays in the period, but never really came close to getting a puck past Toskala.
“We played hard,” Renney said. “We outshot this team significantly, we made a couple of mistakes that are in our game right now that we’re going to continue to try to rectify.
“We are going to keep playing hard and we’re going to stay the course and go after wins.”
Notes: The teams will conclude their four-game season series Wednesday night in Toronto. … Toskala has started 50 of the Maple Leafs’ 60 games. … The Rangers took two too-many-men penalties. … New York, which beat Toronto 1-0 in a shootout at home on Oct. 17, is 1-1-1 against the Maple Leafs this season.