NEW YORK, N.Y. -- With the New York Rangers' resilience in question throughout much of the 2013-14 season, a 2-1 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs was a much-needed boost heading into the holiday break.
In their 38th game of the season Monday at the Madison Square Garden, the Rangers finally showed some toughness.
"I think it is safe to say we are leaving for the Holidays on a much happier note, winning back-to-back," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
"It's going to be a pleasant three days. That being said, we're going to regroup, recuperate, and get back at it on (Dec. 27 in Washington D.C. against the Washington Capitals)."
Goaltender Cam Talbot made 25 saves, and center J.T. Miller scored in regulation for New York, while left winger Mats Zuccarello and center Derek Stepan scored in the shootout. The Rangers improved to 18-18-2 and finished their franchise-record nine game homestand with a 3-4-2 mark.
"This is the way we want to play," Stepan said. "This is something that as a group we have been close to at times, but the last two games we played for full 60 (minutes)."
Toronto fell to 18-16-5. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 42 saves. Center Nazem Kadri scored for the Leafs. Left winger Joffrey Lupul was the only Leafs skater to score in the shootout.
"The shootout is always tough because it can go either way," Bernier said. "We did a great job getting it to that point. We stayed strong in the second period.
"We stole a point probably."
The Rangers would agree with Bernier's assessment. Kadri forced overtime -- and the subsequent shootout -- with 1:24 left in regulation when he shoved right winger David Clarkson's rebound under Talbot. The New York netminder appeared to have the puck underneath him for three seconds before Kadri pushed it into the net.
Vigneault said center Brad Richards was told by one of the referees -- the officiating crew was composed of Jean Hebert and Wes McCauley -- was looking to see if Clarkson scored on the wraparound attempt. A video review upheld the goal to the consternation of the 18,006 in attendance.
"I didn't hear a whistle," Talbot said. "I was expecting one because I thought I had it covered.
"We deserved to win the game and to get a goal like that against us could have really hurt but we kind of let it go, pushed forward and got the eventual game-winner. We did a good job of staying focused and pushing forward."
Pushing forward pretty accurately describes what the Rangers did for 65 minutes. New York outshot Toronto, 43-26, and had a 66-42 advantage in attempted shots.
"We've got four lines doing well and playing a simple game," Zuccarello said. "I think we created a lot of chances and played well."
Miller opened the scoring at 7:04 of the third period with a one-time blast from the slot off of a feed from left winger Chris Kreider, who was stationed behind the Toronto net. Miller's goal, his second of the season and the fourth of his NHL career, broke a 0-0 deadlock which spanned the game's first 47:03.
But the game was hardly a defensive affair, despite the pace of the game slowing considerably in the second period, following a wide opening 20 minutes. Where the first period saw the Rangers and Leafs skate freely throughout all three zones to trade offensive chances, the second became a tighter checking affair.
Still, there were scoring opportunities, the best of which occurred midway through the period when defenseman Ryan McDonagh's point shot eluded Bernier but ricocheted off the far post. New York surged after McDonagh struck iron, as they generated 22 shots on goal in the period.
"In the second period we had numerous scoring chances," Vigneault said. "People would say we didn't come out of it with anything, we didn't get rewarded for all that time and effort but we did get rewarded in the sense we had momentum."
Bernier was the reason New York's momentum did not translate into more goals. The Toronto goaltender was brilliant while often under siege, swallowing rebounds and flashing a strong glove hand.
"Our goaltender stood on his head," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "That's all you can ask in a game like this one. These are the dog days of the hockey season -- with so many games in few nights --we have to find way to generate energy."
NOTES: Prior to Monday night's game, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault did not explain his decision to sit No. 1 G Henrik Lundqvist for the second match. "We're playing back-to-back, four games in six nights, my focus right now is on what we need to do on the ice to beat a very good team. And we'll leave it at that," Vigneault said. "It is a good question. Right now, (I'm) focused on Toronto. I think for us, playing back-to-back, four-games in six nights, we've had a lot of work and I'm (giving my) full attention to that right now." ... The Maple Leafs charter flight was delayed three hours Sunday due to an ice storm that has affected Toronto. "A few of the guys were affected by it. I guess they didn't have any backup generators. I extended the offer." C Nazem Kadri said after the optional skate at the Madison Square Garden. ... The Leafs entered the match with only one road win in 10 games away from the Air Canada Centre since Oct. 30. ... LW Taylor Pyatt was scratched by the Rangers. ... The Maple Leafs scratched D Mark Fraser, D John-Michael Liles and LW Frazer McLaren.