NEW YORK, N.Y. - The New York Rangers said they weren't going to make excuses following their season-opening, seven-game road trip that spanned three countries.
Once they finally got back to New York, the Rangers were already searching for answers why they went flat in the final 40 minutes of the home opener after they played one of the best periods of the young season.
Joffrey Lupul and Clarke MacArthur scored 4:22 apart in the third period as the Toronto Maple Leafs broke open a tie game and spoiled the Rangers' long-awaited return to renovated Madison Square Garden with a 4-2 victory on Thursday night.
The Rangers took a 1-0 lead and fired a season-best 16 shots in the first period, but generated little the rest of the way.
"You could tell the momentum shifted," struggling forward Brad Richards said. "They started turning pucks over on us, we didn't get the zone time and the pressure like we did in the first, but we were still going into the third in a 1-1 game.
"We were very confident, it just didn't happen."
Lupul scored off a rebound in a scrum in front of Henrik Lundqvist to make it 2-1 with his fifth of the season, and MacArthur made it a two-goal edge with his first—firing a shot from the left circle during a 2-on-1 break that eluded Lundqvist's leg at 6:33.
Matthew Lombardi scored his first in the second period, and Mike Brown made it 4-1 in the third.
Dan Girardi scored in the first, and Michael Del Zotto got it to 4-2 with 4:34 remaining for the Rangers, who went 3-2-2 on a season-starting road trip because of the work being done at their home rink. New York's home opener, the last in the NHL, kicked off a six-game homestand.
Lundqvist finished with 32 saves, and counterpart Jonas Gustavsson stopped 28 shots for the Maple Leafs (6-2-1).
"We had to fight through the first period," Gustavsson said. "They came out strong. The second and third periods were probably the best we've played so far."
While the renovations created a distinct new look at MSG, the crowd was noticeably quiet throughout, even during pre-game introductions. One banner hung from the upper level in support of exiled forward Sean Avery, who has been sent to Hartford of the AHL. Chants of "We want Avery" broke out in the third period once the outcome was no longer in doubt.
New York appeared to build on its early lead, but twice had goals waved off after captain Ryan Callahan ran into Gustavsson.
As disappointed as the Rangers were to lose the potential goals, they agreed with both calls.
"It's tough," Callahan said. "You see the two pucks go in the back of the net, you want them to be in, especially when we're struggling scoring. (The referee) thought I bumped him. I made some contact with him."
The Rangers have mustered only 16 goals in eight games, and the lack of quick chemistry between Richards—New York's prized free-agent acquisition—and top scorer Marian Gaborik has been a big reason why. Gaborik assisted on Girardi's goal to give him five points this season. Richards also has five.
"It would be great if we came in here and clicked perfectly, but realistically we have some work to do," Richards said. "We've got to get to know each other on the ice. We're both used to having the puck, and that's a work in progress for sure."
New York was already in front on Girardi's goal 6:23 in when Callahan appeared to double the advantage at 9:45 when he deflected a shot by Del Zotto. The goal was immediately waved off.
With 7:27 left, Callahan crashed the net in pursuit of a rebound. The puck bounced in front, and Brandon Dubinsky's return shot was stopped. Callahan knocked over Gustavsson, and the puck got past the goalie.
"Definitely I got pushed, so I didn't get a chance to save it," Gustavsson said. "Every time a goal goes by you are rattled but you just try to forget about it."
In between the two no-goals, Lundqvist protected the slim advantage when he made a right pad save to turn away Phil Kessel, set up by new centreman Tim Connolly. Kessel, the NHL leader so far in goals and points, didn't get everything on the shot that was stopped by Lundqvist as he slid to his right across the crease.
Toronto shook off its shots disadvantage in the first and outshot the Rangers 16-7 in the second.
The Leafs needed just 1:20 to get the tying goal from Lombardi on a drive Lundqvist would likely want back. Lombardi's shot from the left circle squeezed in under Lundqvist's blocker.
"I don't really have an explanation for a couple of goals, why I was surprised," Lundqvist said. "I was already thinking about the next play and being ready for that. I was too far ahead of myself. I have to be better."
NOTES: Rangers D Michael Sauer returned after missing five games (shoulder). ... Connolly (upper body) made his season debut, centring Toronto's top line between Kessel and Lupul. ... The Maple Leafs recalled G Ben Scrivens from Toronto to back up Gustavsson while James Reimer recovers from a whiplash injury sustained Saturday.