TORONTO – The team from Broadway was missing its stars, but that didn’t matter Thursday night.
No Marian Gaborik. No Chris Drury. No Vinny Prospal. Not even Henrik Lundqvist.
Despite missing critical players up front and in goal, the New York Rangers snapped a three-game winless skid and won for the first time since their season opener, beating the host Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1.
“It was probably our best game of the year, from being aggressive on the forecheck and playing well defensively,” said Rangers defenceman Michael Del Zotto.
The victory evened New York’s record at 2-2-1 and supplied precious points for a team that’s expected to be without its lone legitimate sniper, Gaborik, until early November while he recovers from a separated shoulder.
Drury, a two-way centre who leads by example, will be sidelined with a broken finger until late November, while Prospal—who had good chemistry with Gaborik last season—is likely to be out until mid-November while he recovers from knee surgery.
“We’re not too worried about the guys we’re missing, we can’t do anything about that,” said Rangers winger Ryan Callahan. “Everyone came out and battled hard tonight, and that’s what we need to do.”
After four consecutive starts for Lundqvist, the Rangers went with backup Martin Biron in net against the Leafs.
“There were butterflies before the game,” said Biron, who not only got his first start and victory with New York but almost earned his first shutout as well.
His bid was spoiled by Colby Armstrong’s goal—his first as a Maple Leaf—at 11:04 of the third period. It was the only goal that Biron surrendered, making 24 saves in the process, including several of the stellar variety.
“You’ve just got to trust the work you’ve put in during practice,” said Biron, who denied Toronto’s Kris Versteeg, Phil Kessel and Mike Zigomanis, “and hope that it will show when you play in a game.”
It did, but Rangers coach John Tortorella said his team needs to play the same up-tempo style every night in order to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We were aggressive on the forecheck, on pinches and we blocked a lot of shots,” said Tortorella. “We protected the lead aggressively, we wanted to defend the correct way . . . jam the neutral zone, be aggressive on the blue-line and go hard the other way when we had chances.
“It’s important for us to play that way to win games.”