NEW YORK — Mats Zuccarello scored the only goal in a shootout as the New York Rangers split a home-and-home series against the Toronto Maple Leafs with a 3-2 victory on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh had a goal and an assist each in regulation for New York (20-6-2), which earned two badly needed points and moved into a three-way tie for sixth in the East along side the Ottawa Senators and cross-town rivals the New York Islanders.
Phil Kessel scored twice for the second straight game for Toronto (22-13-5), which remained firmly in the fifth seed in the East, four points clear of sixth with eight games remaining.
Despite the loss, the Leafs stayed on pace to make the post-season for the first time since the spring of 2004, which would end a seven-season playoff drought that is the longest in franchise history.
Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves after allowing four goals Monday in a uncharacteristically mediocre performance. The all-star hadn’t given up more than three goals since Feb. 26 against Winnipeg.
James Reimer finished with 26 saves in his sixth straight start.
Kessel scored on Toronto’s first shot of the third period when Arron Asham’s turnover led to a Kessel and James van Riemsdyk 2-on-1. With the two Leafs streaking down the ice, Kessel converted van Riemsdyk’s pass to tie the game 2-2 at 8:05. Kessel has four goals in two games.
Ryan Callahan almost had the go-ahead goal with just over four minutes left to play, but Reimer shut the door on his wraparound attempt and the crowd roared with disbelief.
Nazen Kadri had a wide-open net in overtime, but Lundqvist got an arm out just in time to deflect the puck.
The Leafs came out aggressive in the second and just 20 seconds after Clarke MacArthur was stopped on a breakaway, Callahan turned around to clear the puck when Kessel stole it right off his stick and quickly put it past Lundqvist for the game’s first goal at 1:42 and the centre’s 13th of the season.
The Rangers didn’t register a shot until midway through the second with the Leafs down a man. Toronto’s penalty kill — third overall in the league — went to work and kept the puck out their zone to end the threat.
But New York tied the game 1-1 at 10:55 when Hagelin, waiting at the side of the net, received a fortuitous rebound and slammed in his first goal in 11 games.
The Rangers went ahead 2-1 at 16:43, with Callahan screening Reimer, McDonagh slipping around Kadri and blasted in a wrist shot from the blue-line that cleared traffic. The Blueshirts finished the period with a 10-5 edge in shots.
Kessel looked in dangerous in the first, taking Tyler Bozak’s backhanded pass from behind the net and putting a point-black shot on Lundqvist with six minutes left in the frame. Reimer proved equally up to the task at the other end as the Rangers swarmed, with Brad Richards and Derek Stepan taking turns testing the Leafs goalie.
Toronto outshot the Rangers 11-8 in the opening period.
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