NEW YORK – Loud enough for all to hear, John-Michael Liles accurately summed up the Leafs second win at Madison Square Garden this year as he and his teammates rambled off the ice.
"Not gonna lie boys we got the best Swedish goalie tonight," Liles said.
And for a night at least, he was on point.
Jonas Gustavsson outdueled his idol Henrik Lundqvist with 30 saves as the Leafs hung on to beat the Rangers 4-2 on Monday night, snapping a mini two-game slide. Gustavsson was at his best down the stretch, stopping all 12 Rangers shots in the third as the Leafs protected a one-goal lead, this after jumping ahead 3-0.
"We didn't need him actually in the first half of the game," Ron Wilson said afterward, "but obviously in the second half when they built some momentum off of that 5-on-3 we needed him to make a lot of big saves, especially the last six or seven minutes… he stood big in some of those situations where the puck was tight around the net."
A key stop on Brad Richards in the final minute sealed the win.
"I know they were going to try to put a lot of pucks to the net," Gustavsson said of the final twenty. "They've got some big bodies too so you've got to try to see the puck and be ready for screens and deflections.
"There's always one or two saves you need to make and I was fortunate enough to make them tonight."
The Leafs are the only team to beat the Rangers in regulation at home this season, winning twice in two meetings with Gustavsson in between the pipes on both occasions. Gustavsson has won five of his last six starts overall.
1. Gustavsson has gotten considerable offensive support this season, especially compared to what he was given last year. The Leafs have scored an average of 3.85 goals per game in Gustavsson starts this fall compared with an average of 2.23 a year ago. No wonder his record presently sits at 9-5-0. "It's tough to win otherwise," he said with a smile.
Wilson shared his thoughts on the improved goal support for Gustavsson, which surely takes some stress off the frequently embattled goaltender. "A lot of it has to do with our powerplay," he said. "It's been deadly, generally speaking." The second ranked powerplay added another goal in the win, giving it at least a goal in 10 of the last 12 games.
2. The top unit of Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak rediscovered their pop after a pair of tough outings against Boston. Lupul scored his 13th of the year on a nifty set-up from Bozak on the aforementioned man advantage, while Kessel added two assists to regain control of the NHL scoring race. "They were back in form after the last two games where they struggled a little bit," Wilson said. "Loops was dangling tonight, Phil had a lot of speed, and Bozie looked really good tonight." Kessel now sits two points up on Claude Giroux and Jonathan Toews for the scoring lead, but has fallen behind the uber-hot Toews in the goals department; the Blackhawks captain now has 17 goals, one better than Kessel, who has gone a season-high six games without finding the back of the net.
3. Kessel and Lupul still have yet to go consecutive games without a point. Lupul sits three points behind Kessel, 4th in scoring with 31 points. "The stats right now are a little overwhelming for me just looking back at my numbers throughout my career," Lupul said. "But again I'm going to try and stick with the way I've been playing all year – not try and change anything – and hopefully keep going." Wilson noted before the game that he wanted Lupul to shoot the puck more, this after the 28-year-old failed to register a shot on Saturday for just the second time this season. The coach got his wish: Lupul fired seven on goal against the Rangers.
4. Cody Franson had been trying to get more pucks on net of late, succeeding to beat Lundqvist with his second of the year in the opening frame on Monday. "Just trying to speed things up a little bit," Franson said of his shot. "I've been taking too long to release it, letting guys get in the shot-lanes and in turn haven't had as many pucks on net as I'd like, haven't had as many chances to get up on the scoresheet." Franson has just eight shots on goal thus far, scoring 25% of the time. "It's one of those things where you want to help contribute so bad that when you struggle to get pucks there and give forwards chances at rebounds, it limits the whole team's offensive generation."
5. Mikhail Grabovski was forced to miss Monday's action, rushing back to Toronto before the game to be on hand for the birth of his second child. The 27-year-old heard word from his girlfriend Kate early that morning that she was likely going into labour at some point in the day. Grabovski joked that he was hopeful she could hold on for just a day or two. There were early plans to name the boy Jaeger, a tribute to Rolling Stones front-man Mick. Grabovski and his father are both apparently big fans.
Update: Grabovski's son Jaeger was born just after midnight on Tuesday morning. All are doing well. The 27-year-old is expected to play on Tuesday night against New Jersey.