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Maple Leafs right winger Connor Brown and New York Rangers centre Derek Stepan battle for the puck in front of Henrik Lundqvist during second period of NHL action at Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Thursday.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Mike Babcock had a plan when it came to replacing Morgan Rielly on the Toronto Maple Leafs defence.

But the New York Rangers set fire to both the plan and the Leafs' defence by the end of the first period in putting Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen under siege for what turned out to be a 5-2 win. That broke the Maple Leafs' three-game winning streak and showed just how valuable Rielly, 22, is to a team that is hoping to break into the NHL playoffs this season. The Leafs had better hope Rielly's leg injury really is a day-to-day situation.

By the end of the night, the two least experienced defencemen had the roughest outings for the Leafs, Connor Carrick and, in particular, Frank Corrado. Both were the victims of giveaways and bad penalties. Corrado could claim rust as an excuse since this was just his second game with the Leafs this season. Then again, he just finished a two-week conditioning stint with the Toronto Marlies farm team.

Corrado's play was bad enough that Babcock was unwilling to discuss it, a rare occurrence from the coach. "What I'll do is just watch the game [video] and go from there instead of me saying anything tonight," he said.

On the plus side, Corrado chose not to hide and showed up to discuss his bad night with the media.

"Not bad," was his initial assessment of his night, although Corrado allowed, "I'd like to have some of those back for sure.

"It is what it is. I've got to put it past me and move on. It's a game of mistakes. You move on from it and try not to let it happen again."

Babcock's plan was to move Jake Gardiner up to the top pair with Nikita Zaitsev to fill the hole left when Rielly went down in Tuesday's win over the Buffalo Sabres. The coach decided to keep his veteran pair of Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick together because of their penalty-killing prowess and give them more ice time. Then he matched Carrick and the newly-promoted Corrado, crossed his fingers and hoped for the best.

"My plan is to play 60 good minutes like this and not have to make any adjustments," Babcock said before the game.

Only a superb effort by Andersen, who faced 35 shots by the end of the second period, kept the score close. By the start of the second period Babcock was shuffling his defence pairs.

Both Corrado and Carrick were treated roughly by the Rangers. Early in the first period, for example, Rangers winger Michael Grabner blew by Carrick on a breakaway and the Leaf rookie picked up a slashing penalty on his attempt to slow down Grabner. Andersen bailed out Carrick and the Leafs on that one with a big save and then made a couple more on the power play.

But just after Carrick's penalty expired, the Leaf forwards got into the sloppy defence act when they left all sorts of room in the high slot for Ranger defenceman Brady Skjei. He was spotted wide open by winger Mats Zuccarello and ripped a shot past Andersen.

The Leafs and Rangers traded goals, with Mitch Marner setting up Tyler Bozak with a nifty feed and  Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich responding with a slick skate to stick move of his own to put the visitors ahead 2-1.

But the state of the Leafs defence was made clear in the last few minutes of the first period when they were on the power play. Once again, Grabner victimized Carrick, stripping him of the puck at the Ranger blue line for a shorthanded two-on-one with Kevin Hayes. And once again Andersen bailed out his teammate with a big save.

At the end of the first period the shots on goal stood at 19-9 in favour of the Rangers.  They had 23 shot attempts in the period, none were blocked and four missed the net. The 19 shots matched a season-worst for the Leafs in shots on goal.

That was enough for Babcock.

At the start of the second period, he leaned even heavier on Gardiner, who hit 29 minutes in ice time in Tuesday's win over the Buffalo Sabres when Rielly was injured in the first period. By the end of the game, after a lot of double-shifting, Gardiner hit 26:14 in ice-time.

In the hopes of bringing some stability back to Carrick's game, Babcock moved him back to Gardiner, his regular partner. Then he put Polak with Corrado, although the latter's struggles did not end, even though Babcock limited his ice time to 3:38 in the second period. Late in the period he coughed up the puck behind the Leafs net and then took a slashing penalty when he tried to get it back.

However, turned out well for the Leafs when winger Zach Hyman did his usual demon fore-checking on the penalty kill and scored a shorthanded unassisted goal. That cut the Rangers lead to 3-2.

The bad luck ran through the Leafs defence. The Rangers scored their third goal at 9:02 of the second period when J.T. Miller's shot bounced off Hunwick's visor and into the net.

Grabner finished off the Leafs with two consecutive goals in the third, a breakaway and an empty-netter to run his goals total to 21. Not bad, considering he only managed nine last season while playing for the Leafs.

"Grabner gets one or two breakaways a game," Gardiner said. "We should have been more aware of him on the ice."

Babcock thought there was more blame to go around than just on the defencemen.

"I don't think Rielly [being out] made us not compete or not take care of the puck," he said. "Obviously the back end had lots of trouble. It was not good enough. Our goaltender gave us a chance. We gave up a lot."