TORONTO — The Maple Leafs knew they needed to get to the blue paint and make life miserable for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner backstopping a well-drilled opponent.
After finally getting on level terms to force overtime off a hard-nosed sequence, Mitch Marner did the same — this time in spectacular fashion.
The winger scored 19 seconds into the extra period on a terrific individual effort as Toronto battled back from a goal down late in regulation to defeat the New York Rangers 3-2 on Wednesday.
Marner collected the puck in his own zone following David Kampf's faceoff win to start OT before eventually weaving his way through three Rangers and beating an outstretched Igor Shesterkin to the far post for his 18th goal of the season.
"Tried to slow the play down, see if anything was going to open up," Marner said. "Saw I had my own little lane and tried to take it."
Timothy Liljegren, with a goal and an assist, and Pontus Holmberg provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (30-11-8), which got 26 saves from Ilya Samsonov. William Nylander added an assist on Liljegren's tying goal with under five minutes left in the third for his 400th career point.
"We stepped on the gas a little bit," Nylander said. "Got some offensive zone time and got some dirty pucks to the net."
Filip Chytil had both goals for New York (26-14-8). Igor Shesterkin made 31 saves.
"We played real well in a tough building with a real good team against us," Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant said. "I want the two points, but we'll take the one and run."
Samsonov improved to an eye-popping 14-0-1 at Scotiabank Arena, further cementing his place in Toronto's crease ahead of Matt Murray.
"Great battle with him," Samsonov said of Shesterkin, last season's Vezina winner as the NHL's top goaltender. "A little bit bigger game for me than normal."
"Dialed," Nylander said of his netminder's play at home. "On top of his game."
Down 1-0 after the first, Chytil got New York even at 2:10 of the second on a sneaky faceoff play.
The Rangers centre squared off against Kampf on the offensive zone draw, but instead of trying to win the draw back, he fired the puck toward a surprised Samsonov with a shot through the pads for his 14th.
"Gotta give it to him," Nylander said. "Haven't seen that in a long time."
Samsonov, meanwhile, wasn't in the mood to discuss the play.
"I had a lot of positive moments," he said. "(Chytil) won the lottery."
Chytil then gave the visitors their first lead at 6:31 when Kaapo Kakko fired a slick pass to his linemate to snap home his second of the night.
Keefe kept the Marner-Auston Matthews and John Tavares-William Nylander combinations intact Wednesday after reuniting the duos after Monday's flat first period, but didn't get the same spark early thanks in large part to the Rangers' tenacity.
Keefe did make one tweak in the third, sending Marner, Matthews and Nylander out together for a couple shifts in hopes of flipping momentum.
"Wasn't a whole lot happening for us," Keefe said. "You gotta give credit to New York. Those guys played hard.”
The Rangers had a terrific chance to go up 3-1 on a power play early in the third, but Chris Kreider flubbed a sure goal.
Toronto started to get more opportunities as the period wore on and finally beat Shesterkin when Liljegren pinched down and won a battle to score his fourth with 4:11 left in regulation.
Tavares then rattled the crossbar in the dying seconds for the home side.
"The Rangers did a good job of shutting us down,” Liljegren. "But we kept pushing."
The Leafs jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:27 into the first when Holmberg scored his fifth on a breakaway.
Samsonov made his best stop of the period five minutes before the intermission with a desperation stick save on K'Andre Miller.
"We have high expectations," Keefe said of the goaltender signed to a one-year contract in free agency. "But nobody expects anybody to have a (home) record like that. It's quite remarkable.
"It speaks a lot to his play, speaks a lot to our team's play."
GALLANT BACKS LAFFY
Gallant said Wednesday morning he's been happy with winger Alexis Lafreniere's response to being made a healthy scratch Dec. 29. The first pick at the 2020 NHL draft had a goal and set up another in Monday's 6-2 victory over Florida after registering just two assists in his previous nine games. "He's a 21-year-old kid," Gallant said. "Sometimes they need a little kick in the butt to get going." Lafreniere had an assist Wednesday.
Rangers winger Will Cuylle made his NHL debut in his hometown. The 20-year-old is the first Toronto native to debut in Toronto for a team other than the Leafs since Kirk Tomlinson of the Minnesota North Stars on Feb. 24, 1988.
Leafs: Host Ottawa on Friday.
Rangers: Host Vegas on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press