TORONTO (AP)—Two nights after one of their worst performances of the season, the NHL-leading New York Rangers showed the Toronto Maple Leafs how they have surged to the top of the standings.
The Rangers outhit and outmuscled the Maple Leafs during a 3-0 victory on Saturday night. Backup goalie Martin Biron stopped all 20 shots he faced to complete a workmanlike effort by his team.
It’s been a winning strategy for the Rangers this season. They lead the NHL with 60 points through 42 games and are on pace for the best season in franchise history.
Adding to their strength has been the play of Biron, who has proven to be a strong backup to No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Biron is 9-2 with a sparkling .927 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average.
“I can’t even call him a backup,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “He’s played very well. … He has been a perfect fit for where we are as a team. He’s a perfect teammate, he understands his role, he knows that Hank is the guy.”
After a lackluster 3-0 home loss to Ottawa on Thursday that broke a five-game winning streak, the Rangers (28-10-4) got goals from grinders Mike Rupp, Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan and earned their 11th victory in 13 games.
Toronto (22-17-5), seventh in the Eastern Conference, was shut out for just the second time this season. The Maple Leafs had won five straight at home, but were unable to generate many quality scoring chances.
“We were just, it seemed all night, about half a foot behind,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “We needed our speed in order to compete with them. They didn’t allow us to get some speed in some situations.
“But we just didn’t have the energy to play the game we needed to play.”
Jonas Gustavsson made his sixth straight start, a somewhat surprising move since he was also in net for the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 loss at Buffalo on Friday night.
Toronto didn’t have much jump. The Maple Leafs managed just 12 shots on Biron through two periods and were trailing 2-0 heading into the third period.
“We were just chipping the pucks in, and they’re doing the same thing to us, and it’s like nothing’s happening,” Toronto forward Clarke MacArthur said. “You’re just going out there, skating around. It’s a tough style.
“You can see why they win a lot of games. They just try to bore you out of the rink almost.”
“It was a little frustrating,” Kessel said. “They played well and we didn’t have anything really going. Our line has not been good for a couple games now. We’re going to have to figure it out, I guess.”
Rupp opened the scoring 3:35 into the second, completing a crisp passing play with Stepan and Wojtek Wolski on a 3-on-1 break that developed after a bad line change by Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek.
Toronto had its share of chances in the second. Kessel had a shot hit the crossbar, and Cody Franson’s drive through traffic struck Biron’s mask and landed in his glove.
Boyle gave the tight-checking Rangers a two-goal lead at 16:28 with a long wrist shot. He pointed skyward in relief after ending a 22-game scoring drought.
The Leafs appeared to break Biron’s shutout bid in the third on a low shot by Connolly, but video review was inconclusive, and the score remained 2-0.
“I was hugging the post, trying to seal the knees,” Biron said. “I know Timmy, I played with him many years. He’s really tricky. … It trickled through my knees, and I just tried to squeeze everything there. It was close.
“It was 2-0 at the time, so it was a big play for us to keep them off the board. We got fortunate it stayed out.”
The 2-0 hole against the stingy Rangers was too much for the Maple Leafs to overcome.
“That’s a big part of our game,” Tortorella said. “That’s the way we have to play. We’re not talented enough, we’re not a good enough team if we don’t play the way we’re supposed to play. We define that as a team. We’ve developed an identity as a team.”
Stepan added an insurance goal with a nice deke at 6:01.
The Maple Leafs killed both minor penalties they were assessed. It was their sixth straight game without allowing a power-play goal.
NOTES: The Leafs took the warmup in camouflage sweaters on Canadian Forces Night. … Brandon Dubinsky sat out for the Rangers because of a sore shoulder. … Toronto scratched Jay Rosehill and Jake Gardiner. … Gustavsson won two previous starts against the Rangers this season in New York. … Biron earned his third assist of the season on Stepan’s goal.