NEW YORK -- The same fans who booed the Rangers off the ice after the first period were providing a standing ovation by game’s end, saluting the team’s effort in rallying back from a 2-0 deficit to knock off the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-2, at Madison Square Garden Saturday night.
By way of the scoreboard, things weren’t looking good for the Rangers early in the game. Despite outshooting the Leafs 14-3 in the first frame, the Rangers were staring down a 2-0 hole during the first intermission.
Avoiding the knee-jerk reaction to panic at the prospect of falling to 1-4-0, coach John Tortorella encouraged the team to stick with it. Keep doing what you’re doing, he told his club, and you’ll be rewarded.
And they were.
“People that have been around the league for awhile know that when you’re struggling, some weird things happen, like outshooting a team [14-3] and being down two-nothing,” said alternate captain Brad Richards, who finished with a goal and an assist. “Those seem to happen more when you’re trying to find yourself than they do when things are going right so, you have to try to stay with it and know that doing the right things will get you out of it.
“We’re happy that happened tonight and it didn’t take another game to find it,” Richards continued. “Now, we have a couple days where we can regroup after the win and get some practice time in.”
Breaking out in a four-goal third period, the Rangers flattened the Leafs thanks to a stellar effort from the team’s front-loaded first line and some key contributions from the blue line.
Marian Gaborik, who recorded his first hat trick of the season on Wednesday against Boston, finished with four points -- two goals and two assists.
Richards, who got the Rangers on the board with a back-hander in the second period, chipped in with one goal and one assist while, Rick Nash added two helpers.
“They were invisible in Philly,” Tortorella said of the Gaborik-Richards-Nash trio. “But the two games we’ve played here, they’ve played really well.”
The Rangers also received some offense from their back end, a key component of their success last season. Marc Staal’s third-period equalizer was the first goal by a Rangers defenseman this season.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before they started going in for us, so we stayed at it, didn’t get frustrated and ended up with a good win,” said Staal, who earned The Broadway Hat for his two-point effort.
Both Staal and defensive partner Michael Del Zotto were active in joining in the rush and jumping up in the play. Del Zotto picked up a pair of assists.
“When our forwards are playing well, cycling in behind the hash marks, it causes a lot of havoc for the other team so it opens some ice up for us up there,” Staal said. “When we’re able to sneak some pucks through, we get rebound chances and those are big. That’s really all we’re trying to do, get second and third opportunities when they make room for us.”
As Tortorella said, more important than the fact the team won the game was how they won it. Struggling to put together a consistent effort through the first four games of the season, the team managed a solid 60-minute effort Saturday.
Many said it was their best game of the season.
“This was a huge win, especially to rally back,” said Gaborik, who now has five goals and three assists in five games this season. “We have to play like this, just keep going and build on this win.”