Cam Talbot continued his winning ways Monday night at Madison Square Garden, and as a result the Rangers reached the NHL's holiday break on a high having won two straight following their 2-1 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs 24 hours after a 4-1 win over the Minesota Wild.
Starting for the second consecutive night Talbot made 25 saves through regulation and overtime to earn his eighth victory---in ten starts---this season. He has now allowed two goals or fewer in nine of his ten starts since being called up from the minor leagues. Talbot had stopped 24 of 25 shots in Sunday's win over the Wild.
Talbot was less than two minutes away from his third shutout of the season, but an extremely controversial goal call was upheld by video review and not only cost Talbot the shutout, but nearly cost the Rangers two extremely important points in the standings. Had the Blueshirts not picked up the second point in the shootout it would have been an extremely bitter pill to swallow, especially considering how well they played Monday, outshooting the Maple Leafs 43-26 and outchancing them by a wide margin.
However Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan scored in the first two rounds of the shootout for New York, and those goals stood up even after Joffrey Lupul scored in the second round for Toronto. After Rick Nash pushed his third-round shot wide, Talbot secured the win and huge extra point for the Rangers by denying Nazem Kadri. It was Talbot's first ever NHL shootout, and a memorable finish in front of a rocking sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd.
After more than 47 minutes of scoreless hockey, largely dominated by the home team, the Rangers finally broke through on their 36th shot of the night against Jonathan Bernier. J.T. Miller ripped a one-timer past the Maple Leafs goaltender at 7:04 of the third period for his second goal of the season, and first in eight games, after skating into the slot to accept a perfect pass from a patient Chris Kreider who was stationed behind Toronto's net. Benoit Pouliot also assisted on the goal, extending his point-scoring streak to a season-high five straight games.
However the Maple Leafs tied the game with 1:24 remaining in regulation on a controversial goal which was upheld by video review. Talbot made a save on David Clarkson and seemingly froze the puck with his glove in front of the goal line even after repeated whacks by Clarkson. However neither referee blew his whistle and Nazem Kadri pushed the puck out of Talbot's glove and over the goal line and was credited with the tying goal, his 11th of the season, even after lengthy arguments from Talbot, Brian Boyle, Brad Richards, and Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault.
Instead of caving in after what they believed to be a bad on-ice call, the Rangers regrouped quickly and found a way to close out their nine-game homestand on a high note with back-to-back victories. They ended up 3-4-2 on the homestand, and wil next play Friday night in Washington, the start of a five-game road trip.
Bernier was the sole reason the Rangers found themselves in a scoreless tie through two periods of play. After making nine saves in the first period, Bernier stopped all 22 shots he faced in the second period as the Rangers established a new single-period high for shots on goal this season during an utterly dominating middle stanza.
It was the second straight game in which the Blueshirts thoroughly outplayed the opposition in the second period. On Sunday night the Rangers outshot the Minnesota Wild 17-5 over the middle 20 minutes of play, scoring twice to turn a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 lead en-route to a 4-1 victory. On Monday, however, try as they might, the Rangers could not solve Bernier in the second period no matter how many shots they fired on net, and no matter how many quality scoring chances they produced.
Tenacious on the forecheck and winning battles all over the ice in the middle period, the Rangers forced the Maple Leafs into their first penalties of the game, and the ensuing power plays helped contribute to their dominance. Nash had a string of high quality chances to score with the man advantage, but was held off the scoresheet time and again by Bernier; and perhaps the best chance on the power play, when Kreider faced an empty net after gathering the rebound of a Nash drive, was shot off the side of the cage as Bernier dove in vain to cover his crease.
Ryan McDonagh was the lone Blueshirt to beat Bernier in that second period, but his left point drive hit the far post and bounced out, with the rebound slipping past Miller in the slot.
Nash had six shots on goal through two periods of play, while Richards had four, and all but three Rangers recorded at least one. However Bernier stopped them all and the two teams headed to the third period in a scoreless duel.
At the other end of the ice Talbot was solid, calmly holding the visitors off the scoreboard, as well. He was forced into making more saves---and more difficult saves---in the first period as Toronto outshot New York 10-9 and generally used their speed and size to create several high quality scoring chances. Talbot denied Mason Raymond on a partial breakaway at 11:50 of the first, his best save until late in the second period when he flashed his glove to snag a wicked left-wing shot from Phil Kessel with the Maple Leafs skating on a power play.
Less than five minutes into the third period Talbot made a pair of huge saves during a scramble by his crease, and then caught a break when Nikolai Kulemin's shot hit the post with the puck rolling along the goal line--though never crossing--before he fell on it prompting the whistle from the referee.
Of course that same whistle was nowhere to be found late in the same period, but that became a moot point when the Rangers snagged the 2-1 victory in the end.