The Toronto Maple Leafs used a lightning-fast transition game to wrest control of the game from the New York Rangers on Friday night, almost let it slip away but came back to stay undefeated with a 4-3 overtime win.
It was the power play, which had struggled all night, which saved the day. After Ranger defenceman Marc Staal took a penalty in overtime, Phil Kessel scored his second goal of the game to win it for the Leafs. That saved some face for the unit, as it had failed to capitalize on a couple of important chances in the third period.
The Leafs, now 4-0, got another strong performance from Mikhail Grabovski and linemates Nikolai Kulemin and red-hot Clarke MacArthur. And their top line of centre Tyler Bozak and wingers Kessel and Kris Versteeg was back in form after a sub-par outing in the Leafs' previous game.
But that was only in five-on-five situations. Their work on the power play is still not up to snuff. The unit failed to convert on two opportunities in the third period.
The Rangers came back despite losing two important players in the first period. Marian Gaborik was lost with a shoulder injury after being knocked into the boards by Leaf forward Colby Armstrong. And centre Chris Drury reinjured the finger he broke in the pre-season.
After giving up a goal to Rozsival at 7:58 of the first period, the Leafs scored three consecutive goals in the second period to take control of the game. MacArthur, Mike Komisarek and Kessel, with two, scored for the Leafs, who led 3-1 going into the third period.
MacArthur's goal was his fifth in the Leafs' first four games. He is the first Leaf ever to score a goal in each of his first first four games with the Leafs.
Boyle scored twice for the Rangers, the second time just after the Leafs failed to capitalize on a two-man power-play advantage, to tie the score early in the third period.
If it had not been for Lundqvist, the Rangers would not have been able to make a game of it in the third period. He was exceedingly sharp in the first period and also in the second even though the Leafs put three pucks behind him in the first eight minutes. It could have been worse, as Lundqvist faced 30 shots in the first 40 minutes.
At the other end of the ice, Leaf goaltender J.S. Giguere was not quite as sharp. He did let in a floater in the first period from Rozsival but was screened by teammates Bozak and Komisarek. A long wrist shot by Boyle that eluded Giguere in the third period was ugly, though, as was Boyle's second goal.
However, it was a Giguere save on Marian Gaborik that seemed to wake up the Leafs' top line. Kessel, Bozak and Versteeg were not skating through the first half of the first period but when Giguere stopped Gaborik the rebound started a rush the other way. Lundqvist stopped Kessel and Bozak to end the rush but the line was flying most of the night after that.
The Leafs' prowess at killing penalties appears to be for real. They were flawless against the Rangers, snuffing out five power plays. Forwards Tim Brent and Fredrik Sjostrom are a vast improvement on last season's cast of characters. On the other hand, the Leaf power play is not lighting up the scoreboard. It was 1-for-7, including a two-man advantage in the third period. Failing to capitalize on the two-man advantage, which was for two minutes, was costly as the Rangers scored the tying goal just after the penalties expired. But the overtime goal made things a little better.
You can't say Madison Square Garden fans have no sense of history. As part of the pre-game hoopla for the home opener, the Rangers trotted out aging Ace Frehley, an original member of Kiss. He sung some song about New York so badly a sizeable portion of the crowd booed him. On the same night 39 years ago, Oct. 15, 1971, Rick Nelson was allegedly booed at MSG, inspiring him to write his last hit, Garden Party. By the end of the second period the fans were booing the Rangers far more lustily.