Kyle Wellwood and Alexei Ponikarovsky each had a career-high five points as the Leafs coasted to a 9-2 rout of the New York Rangers on Saturday night, their third victory in a row on the heels of a seven-game winless streak.
Wellwood had his first career hat trick, while Ponikarovsky had two goals and three assists.
Darcy Tucker, John Pohl, Carlo Colaiacovo and Jeff O’Neill also scored for the Leafs (16-13-5), who jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the opening period, much to the delight of the 19,468 fans at Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs dropped to 10th in the conference after last Saturday’s loss at Detroit, but wins over Tampa Bay, Carolina and New York moved them five spots up in the wide-open East in the space of five days.
The only bad news on the night for the Leafs was that Tucker, who leads the team with 19 goals, left the game late in the second period with a hand injury after blocking a shot with his glove.
Martin Straka and Darius Kasparaitis replied for the Rangers (18-11-4), who had their five-game winning streak snapped. It was only New York’s second loss in regulation in their last 13 games (8-2-3).
Andrew Raycroft got his third straight win in goal for the Leafs, stopping 11 shots, while Henrik Lundqvist gave up eight goals on 24 shots in net for New York before being pulled after the second period in favour of Toronto native Kevin Weekes.
Whether it’s because the Rangers were tired at the end of a three-game road trip or the Leafs getting back to what they were doing earlier in the season, Toronto skated circles around the visitors all night long, its forecheck too much to handle and forcing turnover after turnover. There was never a sense, at any point, that New York would make a game of it.
The Rangers had given up only seven goals during their five-game win streak, but nearly gave up that many in the first 20 minutes Saturday.
The Leafs jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead just six minutes into the game. Colaiacovo open the scoring 5:33 into the period, a well-timed pinch to the net culminating in a backhand tip over Lundqvist’s blocker.
The fans were still cheering when Ponikarovsky’s pass attempt deflected off Rangers defenceman Marek Malik in front and slipped between Lundqvist’s legs, a goal coming just 27 seconds later and prompting a timeout by New York coach Tom Renney.
Kasparaitis made it 2-1 when he slid a weak backhand past Raycroft at 11:16, but Wellwood restored the two-goal lead after his knuckleball one-timer eluded a screened Lundqvist at 14:19.
Two power-play goals 15 seconds apart buried the Rangers, Wellwood on a five-on-three blasting a one-timer from in-close at 16:38 and Pohl deking to the backhand to beat Lundqvist at 16:53. When John Pohl is scoring on breakaways, you know it’s not your night if you’re the Rangers.
If Renney ranted between periods, it didn’t show on the ice. The Leafs came out dominating again in the second period, with Wellwood making it 6-1 when he flipped a rebound past Lundqvist at 5:19. Tucker slid in a loose puck just under five minutes later and it was officially a laugher at 7-1.
Ponikarovsky took a drop pass from Wellwood and blasted a slapshot past Lundqvist from inside the blue-line at 13:27 of the second to make it 8-1. It was 8-2 after Straka one-timed a shot from the slot between Raycroft’s legs 3:52 into the third period.
O’Neill then rounded out the scoring with a power-play marker in the final minute at 19:52 after a feed from Ponikarovsky.
Notes: Wellwood had never before scored two goals in an NHL game, let alone three…. The Leafs are 3-0-0 since Colaiacovo returned to the lineup after missing nearly a year with a serious concussion … The Rangers won the first meeting between the two clubs, 5-4 in a shootout here at the ACC on Oct. 21 … The Rangers host the New Jersey Devils on Sunday, while the Leafs next host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday … Winger Petr Prucha and defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh were healthy scratches for the Rangers, while winger Aleksander Suglobov and defenceman Brendan Bell were left aside by the Leafs.