TORONTO — Had the Rangers come away with the win in regulation against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, Jimmy Vesey said, it would have highlighted their 60-minute effort and defensive game.
But they didn’t win.
With just over four minutes left in the third period during an inevitable push by Toronto, defenseman Timothy Liljegren put back a rebound to tie up the score and force overtime. Maple Leafs star forward Mitchell Marner then scored 19 seconds into the extra period to hand the Rangers the 3-2 loss at Scotiabank Arena.
In the matter of 4 ½ minutes, the Rangers went from a 2-1 lead to suddenly staring at a different narrative.
“Some spurts of good hockey and then I think we got away from it a little bit in the third,” captain Jacob Trouba said. “Got on our heels a little bit and gave them too many good looks. A team that good, they’re going to capitalize if you give them that many good chances.”
The consensus in the Rangers locker room was that they became too passive in the third period, during which they let the Maple Leafs gain speed in the neutral zone, create too many chances off the rush and generate secondary chances. Head coach Gerard Gallant, however, was much less critical than his players, describing the Rangers’ effort as “excellent.”
Only one line — the Kid Line — showed up to play for the Rangers. Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko single-handedly kept the Rangers in the game, behind Chytil’s two goals in the second period, which allowed the visitors to pull ahead after they fell behind, 1-0, in the opening frame.
The other three units? Not so much.
To get Chris Kreider back on his natural left wing, Gallant swapped him with Vesey, but it didn’t have the desired effect. Kreider, who was beaten by Liljegren to the puck on the game-tying goal, wasn’t the answer to getting Vincent Trocheck and Barclay Goodrow going. That line was not only outscored 1-0, but also was out-attempted 10-2.
Vesey, Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad were also out-attempted 4-2. The fourth unit of Will Cuylle, who made his NHL debut, Jake Leschyshyn and Julien Gauthier only logged 4:58 of ice time, so there wasn’t much to go on.
“They played good,” Gallant said of the lines that weren’t nicknamed for their age. “I liked the way they played. It was a pretty good game, I think if you look at their top six guys, they had some chances, too, but it wasn’t like they dominated our top guys.”
Sure, the Rangers can hang their hats on the fact they kept Marner, Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting off the score sheet in regulation. But they lost a winnable game against a club they want to be considered on par with.
The two points were there for the taking, and they had to settle for one.