NEW YORK – A year ago, the New York Rangers might not have held on to the scant one-goal lead they carried into the third period.
After a strong start that produced a two-goal edge, the Rangers let the Toronto Maple Leafs hang around and get close Monday night. A stern message from coach John Tortorella and a reliance on their newly honed conditioning produced a dominating final 20 minutes and a 7-2 victory.
“We had a great start to the second period, but then it was like we stopped playing,” forward Vinny Prospal said. “After two periods Torts came in and he wasn’t really happy. We responded the right way, took the play back to them, scored the fourth goal right away. It was a lot easier after that.”
Dan Girardi and Sean Avery both had two goals, Wade Redden added a goal and two assists, and Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik also scored for the Rangers (5-1), undefeated since a season-opening loss at Pittsburgh.
New York has also won seven consecutive at home, dating to last season. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves for his fourth victory. Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Drury, Artem Anisimov and Prospal all had two assists for the Rangers one night after a 3-0 home victory against Anaheim.
New York has outscored opponents 12-3 in third periods, including 4-0 against Toronto.
“The second half of the second period they carried the play a little bit and we certainly needed to regroup in here,” Drury said. “It’s nice to know we have our legs and our conditioning and are able to carry the play in the third.”
Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jason Blake tallied for the Maple Leafs (0-4-1), who along with the New York Islanders are the NHL’s only winless teams. Vesa Toskala, who made 26 saves, had been 5-0-2 with a 1.37 goals-against average versus New York while with Toronto.
“It’s just not working,” forward Niklas Hagman said. “There’s only one way to go. We can only play better.
“We did some good things in pre-season. We showed some good things in these games, but we just haven’t played well enough to win a game.”
After waiting until the third period to get their offence clicking Sunday, the Rangers jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first against the Leafs. Callahan started it with major help from second-year Toronto defenceman Luke Schenn, during a 5-on-3 power play.
While Callahan whacked at a rebound in the crease as Toskala tried to cover the puck with his glove, Schenn knocked it in with his stick at 2:34.
Redden doubled the lead at 8:08 when he took a pass from Prospal, stationed behind the net, and scored his first of the season.
The Maple Leafs cut it to 2-1 with 44.2 seconds left in the first when Ponikarovsky netted his third goal.
Lundqvist looked sharp after resting Sunday as backup Steve Valiquette shut out Anaheim.
Girardi gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead 26 seconds into the middle frame after Drury cleanly won an offensive zone faceoff back to him. Girardi’s shot hit Toronto defenceman Ian White’s stick and bounded past Toskala.
Toronto again got within a goal when Blake scored his first of the season with 2:49 left in the second during a power play. The Maple Leafs were given another advantage in the final minute, but that was negated 17 seconds later when Blake was called for cross-checking.
Then the Rangers put it away.
Avery scored his first goals in his second game following a knee injury. He beat Toskala with a backhander 1:56 into the third, and Gaborik made it 5-2 1:17 later. Gaborik added an assist to raise his totals to five goals and four assists – recording at least one point in all five games.
“(Sunday) night it was a complete team effort. We played a good hockey team, and tonight we played against a team that hasn’t won a game yet,” Prospal said. “It was up to us not to take an easy night. You have to win games against clubs like this especially when you play them on your home ice.”
Girardi added his second goal of the game with 6:19 left, and Avery finished the scoring at 18:03.
“We kept battling until the third period but that fourth goal seemed to discourage us completely, which was the disturbing thing,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “We have a number of guys who didn’t want to take a hit to make a play to get the puck out of our end, and it ended up in our net.”
Notes: The Rangers are 32-16-8 against Original Six NHL teams since the 2005-06 season, including 9-6-2 versus Toronto. … Toronto had won three straight against New York.