Leafs try to halt home struggles vs. Rangers

(SportsNetwork.com) – Home ice hasn’t been much of an advantage for the
Toronto Maple Leafs in recent meetings with the New York Rangers, but the
Leafs hope to reverse that trend when they host their Original Six rivals on

Although Toronto has won the last two encounters with the Blueshirts,
including a 6-3 win in New York on Oct. 12, the Rangers have claimed five of
the past six battles at Air Canada Centre.

The Maple Leafs are only 3-4-0 as the host this season, but will be glad to be
home after going 0-1-1 on a recent two-game swing trip to Arizona and
Colorado. Toronto was dealt a 3-2 setback by the Coyotes on Tuesday before
dropping a 4-3 shootout decision Thursday against the Avalanche.

Alex Tanguay scored the deciding marker in the third round of the shootout to
defeat the Leafs. Toronto did well to earn a point, however, as Richard
Panik’s game-tying goal with 1:16 left in regulation pushed the game to

Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel also scored goals for the Maple Leafs, who hope to
avoid their first three-game skid since closing 2013-14 with four straight
regulation losses.

Kessel, who leads the Leafs with 18 points this season, had a goal and two
assists in Toronto’s rout of the Rangers last month. The American winger has
eight goals and 11 assists over 28 career games against New York.

Jonathan Bernier suffered the loss against Colorado despite making 31 stops.

“It was a great effort tonight to get a point. We played really well in
overtime,” said Bernier.

Toronto could use both Bernier and James Reimer in net this weekend. The Leafs
also are in action Sunday in Ottawa.

There was a scary moment in Thursday’s tilt as Leafs forward Daniel Winnik was
taken off the ice on a stretcher. Winnik absorbed a hit from Avs defenseman
Jan Hejda and smacked the back of his head on the ice as the two players were
tangled up. Winnik was not taken to a hospital and he could play in tonight’s

Defenseman Jake Gardiner also left the game with a lower-body injury and is
questionable for tonight.

New York, meanwhile, will welcome Derek Stepan to the ice on Saturday, as the
club’s top centerman expects to make his season debut.

Stepan has missed the first 12 games of the season while recovering from a
fractured fibula suffered during practice in late September. In 82 games last
season, Stepan scored 17 goals and set career highs with 40 assists and 57

The 24-year-old pivot has registered a point in nine of his 14 career games
against Toronto, posting two goals and nine assists.

Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle also skated with the team Friday and could return
next week after recovering from a broken hand he suffered in the season opener
against St. Louis. Boyle, who signed as a free agent in July, was hurt while
blocking a shot against the Blues.

Like Toronto, the Blueshirts are also playing on both Saturday and Sunday,
meaning backup Cam Talbot will start over Henrik Lundqvist tonight. Talbot has
seen action in three games this season and made his second start of 2014-15 in
Monday’s shootout loss to St. Louis. Lundqvist will start Sunday’s game
against Edmonton.

Talbot relieved Lundqvist in this season’s earlier meeting versus the Leafs.
New York’s No. 1 netminder took the loss on Oct. 12 after yielding all six
goals on just 24 shots. Talbot is 2-0 with a 0.80 GAA in his three games (two
starts) against the Leafs.

Lundqvist helped his club halt a two-game slide Wednesday against Detroit.
Lundqvist made 25 saves in the 4-3 overtime win and Derick Brassard delivered
the game-winning goal to help the Rangers close a four-game homestand with a
2-0-2 record.

After Pavel Datsyuk went off for tripping, New York’s Dan Girardi unleashed a
blast from the point. Jonas Gustavsson made the initial save, but the rebound
trickled across the crease to Brassard, who was present at the right side of
the net to wrist it home for the win.

“We knew from the beginning we were facing a pretty good team playing some
good hockey, but we found a way,” said Brassard. “We made some hockey plays
there and it is what it is. In overtime, we had the chance to get it done.”

Martin St. Louis and Brassard finished with a goal and an assist apiece and
Rick Nash and Lee Stempniak both scored for the Rangers.

Nash has 10 goals this season, leaving him one shy of Anaheim’s Corey Perry
for the league lead. The Brampton, Ontario native has notched five goals and
six assists in 15 career games against Toronto.

The Rangers, who are 2-2-0 as the guest this season, are on the road for one
game before playing their next three at Madison Square Garden.