Game #34 Marner’s three points the difference despite good effort in 5-3 Rangers loss to Maple Leafs

Mitch Marner celebrates a goal in the Leafs 5-3 win over the Rangers as Alexandar Georgiev looks on. Photo courtesy Getty Images via

Sometimes, you’re gonna be outscored by more talented opponents. The will was there along with the compete level. There was no quit in this one. Simply put, the Rangers were out-skilled by the Maple Leafs in a 5-3 loss up north.

There is nothing to be upset over. Toronto is one of the league’s highest scoring teams for a reason. They showed why in a dazzling display of world class talent during a entertaining third period. After the Rangers outplayed the Leafs in a excellent second to tie the score at one, the third featured six goals from the classic Original Six rivals. The more supremely skilled Leafs won the score fest 4-2 to pick up their 24th win. They’re 24-10-2, ranking second behind Tampa Bay in the East.

Toronto’s biggest star might be Mitch Marner. He was all over the ice tonight. One of the game’s premier playmakers, he recorded what was believed to be a hat trick. However, they changed his first goal to Andreas Johnsson, making it a two goal and assist night. He is a terrific young player, who never gives up on any shifts. It’s hard to believe Dylan Strome went ahead of him.

As good as Marner is, John Tavares certainly was a factor. He finished with two assists, including a highlight reel no look feed to Marner, who completed a two-on-one by deking Alexandar Georgiev for his 11th. It was a jaw dropping play by two great players with only Brady Skjei back. I saw many get on his case for it, but there was nothing he could do. As critical as I am on Skjei, cut him some slack.

The Blueshirts showed me a lot in this game. To be honest, I didn’t expect much. In fact, my score prediction was, Leafs 6 Rangers 2. The fact that it wasn’t a blowout is credit to how hard our team plays for David Quinn. With the notable exception of a couple of games, they compete hard for him. What they did tonight should be an example of a game they can learn from. As Quinn noted, there were some mistakes. But there also were positives.

Patrick Marleau scored the only goal in the opening stanza. His 10th from Morgan Rielly on a deflection and rebound. Mats Zuccarello tried a backhand clear off the glass that didn’t work. Rielly shot and Marleau did the rest.

Following a first largely controlled by the Maple Leafs puck possession, the Rangers came back with a superb second period. Even following a ridiculous call (what else is new) on Adam McQuaid for four minutes when he stuck up for Georgiev, due to some shenanigans from Nazem Kadri (of course got nothing because he’s a MAPLE LEAF), the penalty kill did a great job. They outnumbered the Leafs players despite being a man down. It was splendid work by the whole unit. Georgiev didn’t have to make too many big saves.

In particular, it was the supporting cast that had strong games. Lias Andersson was noticeable during a few shifts, generating a couple of good chances. Ryan Strome had bad luck missing on two from in tight. Boo Nieves has fit in well on that fourth line. He always hustles.

It was also a good game for the third line of Jimmy Vesey, Brett Howden and Vladislav Namestnikov. The trio were around the puck a lot during the second. It was their concerted effort that led to the tying goal by Neal Pionk. Vesey took a Skjei pass and skated into the Toronto zone. He found a open Pionk at the point. His shot caromed off a Leaf body and in for his first goal in 12 games. The second-year defenseman has struggled lately. Maybe this can be a confidence boost. The assist for Vesey was his 10th, matching a career high in only the team’s 34th game.

A Tavares minor penalty gave the Rangers a chance to go ahead. They certainly had some looks with Mika Zibanejad getting his one-timer through at the point. But Frederik Andersen made the saves. Shots were 10-10 in the second. One other point. The Rangers did a good job neutralizing Auston Matthews. He was covered tight throughout and held without a point.

Before you could even get comfortable and feel good about the team, the real Maple Leafs showed up for the third. And what a third it was. In the classic words of legendary Hockey Night In Canada broadcaster Bob Cole, “Holy mackerel!”

On a face-off win by Tavares, who beat Howden, the Leafs took the lead quickly. Originally credited to Marner, it was later changed to Johnsson at 1:37. Before you could turn your head, the Leafs’ quick transition resulted in Rielly finishing off a nice Johnsson pass to increase to 3-1 less than four minutes later.

But the Rangers never quit. Only 68 seconds later, Filip Chytil undressed Rielly with a series of moves to go around him and set up Kevin Hayes at the doorstep for his 10th. The skill Chytil displayed on that goal was remarkable. He has a chance to be a good one. The Rangers sure need it.

A turnover by McQuaid allowed the Maple Leafs to go two-on-one. The defenseman fell down, leaving poor partner Skjei to deal with Tavares and Marner. This is how it looked and sounded on CBC.

Insane. Johnsson added a important secondary helper, which started the play. It was his third point of the game.

Back down by a pair, the Rangers again didn’t give up. Off some hard work, they got within one when Chris Kreider notched his team best 16th from Hayes and Marc Staal with 3:41 remaining. Up to that point, Kreider had been quiet. So had Pavel Buchnevich. Both improved in the third after Quinn tinkered with the top two lines. In games like this, both Buchnevich and Kreider must be more consistent.

They got nothing out of Zuccarello, who was minus-two continuing to struggle at even strength. It’s definitely a concern. His time is almost up. Hopefully, he improves before the trade deadline.

The Rangers came oh so close to tying the game. With Georgiev off with two minutes left, Kreider had a shot ring off the goalpost. They gave a great effort. It just wasn’t enough.

A Hayes poor pass to Pionk handcuffed him, causing Marner to strip the puck and skate away and score his 12th into a vacated net with 20 seconds remaining. I think if Hayes had to do it all over again, he would’ve shot.

There is no reason to be down after this one. The team played hard and gave the Leafs a game. Let’s see how they come back on no rest tomorrow against the Flyers. Both will be in the second game of back-to-backs. But the Flyers played earlier, losing to Columbus in rookie Carter Hart’s third start.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Kevin Hayes, Rangers (goal-10th, assist for another two-point game)

2nd 🌟 Andreas Johnsson, Leafs (goal-8th, 2 assists)

1st 🌟 Mitch Marner, Leafs (2 goals-11th, 12th, assist)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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