NEW YORK – Steve Valiquette gave Henrik Lundqvist a night off and made Madison Square Garden his own personal playground.
Getting a rare start in front of the home crowd, Valiquette was nearly perfect. In the end, his performance was good enough to give the New York Rangers a 1-0 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.
“I really want to feel as comfortable as possible in this rink,” said Valiquette, an Ontario native. “I know that my job and my role on the team is to be ready at all times. I have to add value to the team, no matter if I’m starting or I’m supporting.”
Valiquette, already 2-0 seven games into the season, outduelled Vesa Toskala, winning on Fredrik Sjostrom’s deciding goal in the shootout.
Valiquette was the less busy of the netminders and allowed the tying goal in the second round of the tiebreaker to Nikolai Kulemin. Valiquette completed his third NHL shutout when Jason Blake hit the post on the final shot.
“I don’t feed off the other goalie. I feed off the energy my team is creating,” said Valiquette, who made 21 saves and two more in the shootout. “In the third period, I felt like I could have played another game. We had so much energy.”
Nikolai Zherdev opened the shootout with a goal for the Rangers, who bounced back from a 3-1 loss to Buffalo on Wednesday night to improve to 6-1. Toronto is 0-1-2 since an opening night victory over the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings.
Three of Valiquette’s 11 career NHL victories have come against the Maple Leafs, including a shootout win last season. He skated off as the first star of the game to chants of “Vall-ey! Vall-ey!” from the appreciative crowd.
“It gave me goose bumps. Now I know how Henrik feels,” he said.
It was the first time the Rangers and Maple Leafs were scoreless against each other through regulation since Dec. 8, 1956.
Valiquette made only nine saves after the second period and is expected to give way to Lundqvist on Saturday night in Detroit.
“It seemed like both teams were playing not to lose,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “You have to be on your toes. You have to be proactive. I’d rather lose a game being decisive and going after it than sitting back and hoping you’re going to get it.”
Toronto, outshot 30-15 in regulation, earned its first power play since the second period 53 seconds into overtime when Michal Rozsival was called for hooking. New York played the final 1:04 on its final futile power play.
A Rangers flurry of shots in the third nearly produced a goal, but Toskala was bailed out by the posts.
Scott Gomez’s drive struck the right knee of teammate Ryan Callahan in front and caromed off the right post. The puck rolled on edge along the goal line and then clanged off the left post at 11:20.
Only 1:11 later, with the pressure on Toronto mounting, Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi caught the right post with a shot.
“I made some good saves and sometimes you need a little luck,” said Toskala, after his 12th NHL shutout. “Sometimes they stay out and sometimes everything goes in. That’s the life of a goalie.”
New York had chances after earning consecutive power plays 2:15 apart in the opening four minutes of the third but couldn’t solve Toskala, who allowed 12 goals in his first three games this season. The Rangers’ seventh advantage also proved fruitless with seven minutes left in regulation.
“The calls don’t drive me nuts. My team drives me nuts, taking those penalties,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “It’s just a lack of discipline. Keep your stick down because we killed ourselves killing penalties.”
Toronto was outshot 9-0 in the third until they got a puck on Valiquette with 5:08 left.
The biggest hit came from Maple Leafs defenceman Jonas Frogren, who drilled Sjostrom from behind into the boards in front of the penalty boxes and was whistled for charging.
The Rangers’ best scoring chance in the middle frame came when Markus Naslund let go a shot from near the right post that Toskala stopped but couldn’t control. Gomez’s soft poke was kept out by Toskala before it could trickle in.
Toronto defenceman Pavel Kubina carried the puck through three Rangers during a power play just over a minute later, but Valiquette stopped him.
Notes: Valiquette beat Toronto twice on the road last season and entered with a 2-0 career mark against the Maple Leafs with a 1.79 goals-against average in four games. … Toronto G Curtis Joseph is expected to make his first start of the season Saturday at Pittsburgh. … Frogren returned to action after missing one game due to a bruised foot.