NEW YORK – Nik Antropov’s second NHL hat trick was eight years in the making.
Not since the six-foot-six centre was a 19-year-old rookie, fresh out of the Russian league, had he scored three times in a game. Using his big body and deft stick-handling in front, Antropov used a series of tips and deflections to score three goals Thursday night. He chased Henrik Lundqvist from the net and carried Toronto to a 6-2 victory over the New York Rangers, the Maple Leafs’ season-high fourth straight win.
Not since Dec. 20, 1999, at Florida had he done anything like that.
“Almost exactly eight years,” he said. “I remember it though.”
Toronto, which hadn’t won more than two in a row before this spurt, beat the Rangers in both road meetings this season – outscoring them 9-3. The Maple Leafs scored six times on 16 shots.
Combined with a season-low, 15-shot effort, in a 3-1 home win over Nashville on Tuesday night, the Maple Leafs have back-to-back wins with a mere 31 shots.
“Obviously, we’d like to get more than we had these last two games,” captain Mats Sundin said. “We’ve got to produce more shots than 16 if we want to be successful, but at least we’re not giving up the high quality scoring chances. Not too many, anyway.”
Antropov scored on all three shots he recorded. He has five goals in three games after going 10 straight without one.
“It was (10) games without a goal but I didn’t think about it a lot. I did pretty much everything the same, it just didn’t go in,” he said. “Nobody can go the whole the 82 games scoring every game or every second game.”
His second goal was originally credited to Ian White, but was changed when video showed Antropov deflected it in. Antropov netted his third, and 14th this season, when he got his stick on a hard drive by defenceman Pavel Kubina from the right circle.
“Right on my shaft,” Antropov said. “That was luck I would say. I just put the stick out.”
Matt Stajan and Sundin gave Toronto a 2-0 lead in the first period on only four shots, but that advantage was gone before the intermission. Alex Steen scored late in the third, and Vesa Toskala finished with 23 saves.
Defencemen Dan Girardi and Fedor Tyutin got New York even, both scoring power-play goals off passing plays by forwards Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. It wasn’t enough to prevent the Rangers’ fourth loss in five home games.
New York was outscored 9-2 in consecutive home losses this week to Carolina and Toronto. The Rangers will play Friday at Atlanta, the team they swept out of the first round of last season’s playoffs.
“You always feel good about yourself when you come from behind and tie the hockey game. It didn’t help us much,” Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said. “We know we didn’t play very well. Tomorrow we get another chance to prove we are a good hockey club.”
The Leafs lost momentum over the final 10 minutes of the first period, then rebuilt their two-goal lead in the second despite only 10 shots through 40 minutes.
Antropov scored his first two goals in the second period to stake Toronto to a 4-2 lead.
Steve Valiquette started the third for New York in relief of Lundqvist, who allowed four goals for the second straight game – both at home – after going 18 straight without yielding more than three.
“I don’t know the reason,” Lundqvist said. “I know I have to play better. … The first one was a bad rebound. The other three were not bad goals. I need to work harder in practice and get my game back.”
Rangers coach Tom Renney said he hadn’t decided who would start against the Thrashers.
Antropov finished off his hat trick when he made it 5-2 at 3:34 off the third.
He started the natural hat trick with a power-play goal 5:11 into the second period when a rebound of Steen’s shot bounced off Lundqvist’s blocker right to him for an easy putback that snapped a 2-2 tie.
The Leafs’ lead soon grew back to two goals. Hal Gill, who again kept Jagr in check, held Girardi’s backhanded clearing attempt in at the blue-line and moved the puck to White for a shot.
Antropov got his stick on it and drove it down past Lundqvist at 16:40.
With Toronto leading 2-0, Gomez and Drury sparked the Rangers’ power play that has shown signs of life after a slow start. The man-advantage units clicked twice in each of the two previous games, before an 0-for-4 effort in the 4-0 loss to Carolina on Monday night.
The Maple Leafs scored on two of their first four shots, but then didn’t get another one in on the shaky Lundqvist for the remainder of the period. New York held a 9-0 edge after Toronto scored with 9:24 remaining in the frame.
Girardi cut the Rangers’ deficit to 2-1 with 3:35 left in the first period, and Tyutin tied it 1:15 later.
Notes: Toronto’s first shot of the second period came on Mark Bell’s drive, 1:47 in. … Gill’s assist on Sundin’s goal was his 100th in the NHL. … Agitators Sean Avery (wrist) and Toronto counterpart Darcy Tucker (back) sat out.