NHL

Kulemin scores SO winner as Leafs spoil Tortorella's debut

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The Canadian Press
2/26/2009 8:51:56 AM
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TORONTO - It appears that John Tortorella is ready to rock the boat with the New York Rangers.

Even though the coach didn't seem upset after a 2-1 shootout loss to Toronto in his debut on Wednesday, he didn't sugar-coat the situation either.

Clearly, the players are going to be taken to task under the new regime.

''I don't want to jump to conclusions but I'm a little concerned about the conditioning of the club,'' said Tortorella. ''I thought we looked tired in the third period. We're going to try and play an attacking style, we need to be in shape.''

The Rangers outplayed the Maple Leafs for large stretches of the game and deserved a better fate.

Tortorella hasn't had much time to work with his new team. He replaced Tom Renney on Monday and only had one full practice with the Rangers before they travelled to Toronto.

New York put together a better effort than it did during a 3-2 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs on Sunday. They'll be looking to build on this game when they host Florida at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

''I think this was definitely a step in the right direction,'' said goalie Henrik Lundqvist. ''We looked faster and had more energy. He told us to go after them more, take more chances to get our offensive game going a little bit.''

While that translated into more scoring chances, the Rangers ran into a hot goalie in Vesa Toskala. He stopped 31 shots during the game and turned aside all three attempts in the shootout, improving his record to 6-0-4 since Jan. 19.

Toskala has responded particularly well since returning from a week off. He's turned aside 102 of 107 shots during the three games since as the Leafs have earned five of a possible six points.

''He's been playing outstanding,'' said defenceman Ian White. ''His last couple games he's pretty much single-handedly won us the games.''

The shootout victory was just the third in 10 attempts for the Leafs this season. Nikolai Kulemin beat Lundqvist on Toronto's first attempt and Toskala took over from there.

Niklas Hagman scored in regulation for Toronto (23-26-12), which plays at Long Island on Thursday night.

Wade Redden replied for the Rangers (31-23-8).

New York currently holds down sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, but is just three points up on ninth-place Carolina and four ahead of 10th-place Pittsburgh.

Tortorella doesn't have much time to turn things around and admitted that he might not be able to do much about the players he thinks are out of shape.

''It's difficult during the season,'' he said. ''We're 60-plus games in. I expect the team to be tired, all teams are tired at this time of year. I wouldn't say the whole team - I have some concerns about a few guys.

''It's a tough way to play. You have to be in shape.''

The coach even called a timeout shortly after Hagman had tied the game in the third period because he thought some of his defenceman needed a rest.

It was a tedious opening 20 minutes as both teams fumbled the puck around and failed to generate any top-quality scoring chances. The most interesting moment came a little over six minutes in when White and Markus Naslund dropped the gloves for a brief fight.

Neither of those players can be confused as heavyweights. In fact, it was Naslund's first fighting major since December 1993, when he squared off with Hartford's Randy Cunneyworth during his rookie season.

''It wasn't much of anything,'' said White.

Another long streak came to an end in the second period when Redden opened the scoring. The much-maligned defenceman beat Toskala with a long shot at 10:26, giving him his first goal in 58 games.

Redden was one of New York's prized off-season additions and will be one of the players Tortorella tries to spark over the final 20 games.

The game started to open up after he made it 1-0, with Toskala sprawling across his crease to stop a couple chances from Petr Prucha before Toronto's Lee Stempniak hit the post at the other end.

New York's lead carried into the third period and was starting to look like it might stand up until Hagman essentially created a goal out of nothing. He made a quick move coming out of the corner and beat Lundqvist to the glove side at 10:21.

That set up the second overtime game between the teams in four days. And just like last time, it ended with a loss for the Rangers.

''I'm not upset with the team,'' said Tortorella. ''I just saw us sink a little bit in the third period. I just thought the play got taken to us in the third period.

''We want to finish (better in) games like that.''

Notes: All six replacement coaches this season have lost their debuts ... Mark Bell didn't dress for the Rangers after being claimed on waivers earlier in the day from Toronto ... Boyd Devereaux was a healthy scratch for the Maple Leafs ... Toronto's John Mitchell and Jeff Finger each left the game with upper-body injuries ... Tortorella is the 34th coach in Rangers history ... Announced attendance at Air Canada Centre was 19,383.

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