TORONTO - James van Riemsdyk said the Toronto Maple Leafs are a team that is desperate to make the playoffs.
So when the New York Rangers scored twice in the third period on Monday to tie the game 3-3, the desperate Maple Leafs responded immediately with Phil Kessel's second goal of the game 39 seconds after the tying goal was scored.
They held on for a 4-3 victory over the Rangers before a crowd of 19,437 at Air Canada Centre.
"It was that extra desperation," said van Riemsdyk who scored Toronto's first goal. "They did a good job of getting themselves back in the game, tying it. We didn't quit, we kept going and ended up winning."
Ryan O'Byrne scored the other goal for the Maple Leafs, who took a 3-1 lead into the third period only to see it disappear after nine minutes.
Kessel who scored his second goal of the game and 12th of the season at 9:39 of the third also added an assist.
Rick Nash scored twice for the Rangers and has 17 goals for the season. Derek Stepan scored the tying goal.
"I thought the most important part was when we tied it 3-3, we didn't play with it," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said. "We can't have a breakdown like that two shifts after we tie the game. I think if we play with the tie and keep going about our business as we were, we have a much better chance to win the hockey game."
"We have a defensive zone breakdown after a huge goal by (Stepan)," Nash said. "It was just a bad play. That next shift after a goal is so important and we didn't get the job done."
The Leafs snapped a string of 10 consecutive games in which Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist had not allowed more than two goals. He stopped 24 of 28 shots on Monday, while Toronto goaltender James Reimer stopped 31 of 34
"I just thought our group played extremely hard, they were determined, and we had a contribution from everybody," Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said.
The Maple Leafs (22-13-4) moved six points ahead of the Rangers (19-16-4) in the playoff race with the victory, which tied the season series 1-1. The teams meet again Wednesday in New York.
With nine games to play in the regular season, van Riemsdyk was asked if the team is beginning to smell a playoff spot.
"You can't smell it until it's there," he said.
But the Leafs are starting to look like a playoff team.
"Any time you can get your big guns going in a crucial game, that's a nice sign for your hockey club," Carlyle said. "I thought in the last five or six minutes that is probably as well as we have defended and played in a tense situation with a one-goal lead. We did a lot of things right. We didn't turn the puck over."
The Rangers hit a goal post twice in the early going of the first period, but the Maple Leafs scored first when van Riemsdyk jammed the puck past Lundqvist on his third try at 11:03. It was his 16th goal of the season.
Defenseman John-Michael Liles set up the chance when he passed the puck in front from the corner. The goal came about 20 seconds after Dan Girardi rang a 39-footer off the post behind Reimer for the Rangers.
The Maple Leafs took a 2-0 lead at 11:28 of the second on a 26-foot shot by O'Byrne after he took a cross-ice pass from the right wing from Nazem Kadri. It was O'Byrne's second goal of the season and his first with the Leafs.
The Rangers replied at 15:05 when Nash swooped in from the left wing after taking a pass from Stepan and stuffed the puck into the goal from short range. A video review confirmed that it was not kicked in.
The Maple Leafs regained their two-goal lead on Kessel's power play goal, a 42-foot wrist shot at 19:18, with assists to Dion Phaneuf and Cody Franson. Ryan Callahan was off for holding at the time.
After the Leafs had the better of play in the first two minutes of the third period, Nash scored again on a clever move at 2:50. He dashed in from the right wing, cut in front of the goal and flicked the puck over Reimer from seven feet away.
The Rangers tied it on Stepan's 14th goal at nine minutes on an unassisted solo effort from the left wing.
But Kessel put Toronto ahead 39 seconds later on an eight-foot wrist shot on his own rebound.
"We count on (Lundqvist) to make the first save but he shouldn't have to make the next couple," Nash said. "We've got to be stronger. Our wingers have got to collapse and everyone's got to be helping out around that net."
NOTES: The Maple Leafs were without forward Joffrey Lupul (head), who missed his second game in a row. He was on a seven-game point streak when he was injured against Philadelphia on April 4. There is no date set for his return but he has resumed skating with the team...The Rangers were without Michael Sauer (concussion), Marc Staal (eye), Derek Dorsett (collarbone) and J.T. Miller (wrist). ...The teams meet again on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.....The Rangers beat the Maple Leafs 5-2 in their previous meeting this year, Jan. 26. The teams meet three times this season. ...The Rangers entered Monday's game 2-0-1 since trading Marian Gaborik to Columbus on April 3 for Dorsett, Brassard and John Moore.