Mats Zuccarello felt the pressure as much as anyone.
Zuccarello was called out by coach John Tortorella before Wednesday night's 3-2 shootout win over the Maple Leafs, in which the winger scored the lone goal for a crucial second point in a tight playoff race.
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"He's in better shape and quicker, but he's got to score in the shootout," Tortorella said about Zuccarello, who was denied on a shootout bid by Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury in a 2-1 loss on April 5. "It's nice that we've seen it before, but we need it now."
"Now" came after 65 minutes at the Garden, when Zuccarello's five-hole wrister beat James Reimer (26 saves). Henrik Lundqvist stopped Tyler Bozak, forced Nazem Kadri wide, and stopped Mikhail Grabovski as the Rangers improved to 4-4 in shootouts. The Leafs are 0-5.
The win moved the Rangers (20-16-4, 44 points) into a tie for sixth place with Ottawa and the Islanders. Ottawa has nine games left; the Rangers and Islanders have eight. The three teams are two points ahead of ninth-place Winnipeg and four ahead of the 10th-place Devils.
The Islanders play in Boston tonight.
The Rangers and Islanders play at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night. The teams have identical records, but the Islanders own the tiebreaker with one more regulation win (17) than the Rangers.
"This time of year, it's a huge second point," Tortorella said. "I said before that [Zuccarello] needs to do something, and he did."
Zuccarello, who began this season in the KHL, had two assists in his first six games. He is 6-for-12 in the shootouts with four game-deciding goals. He said seeing the puck go in "was a good feeling. It's about time."
Lundqvist (23 saves) rebounded after allowing four goals in Monday's loss to the Leafs. "I was making better decisions and reading the plays better," he said.
Overall, the Rangers were far better defensively, preventing the Leafs from getting a shot for 24:33. "I don't think we spent much time in our zone, at least compared to our last game," said Ryan McDonagh, who scored his fourth goal for a 2-1 lead when he stepped around Kadri for a long wrister at 16:43 of the second period. "We didn't have the numerous breakdowns, but when we did, Henrik was there."
The one-goal lead in the third didn't last. Dan Girardi flubbed a pass at the Leafs blue line, and the turnover led to a two-on-one. James Van Riemsdyk found Phil Kessel on his right for his second goal and the 2-2 tie at 8:05. It was Toronto's first shot on goal of the period.
Earlier, Carl Hagelin scored his first goal in 11 games midway through the second period to tie it at 1. He swept home a rebound at the right post off a shot from McDonagh.