On his 23rd birthday, Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev gave himself the present he wanted most on Sunday: A 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden.
The Bulgarian-born goalie made a career-high 55 saves, the second-most saves in a regular-season game in franchise history. Mike Richter made 59 on Jan. 31, 1991, but that was in a 3-3 overtime tie with the Canucks in Vancouver, so Georgiev owns the record for most saves by a Rangers goalie in regulation and most saves by a Rangers goalie in a game at the Garden.
Asked if he could have had a better birthday, Georgiev deadpanned, “A shutout?’’
But seriously, folks . . .
According to the Rangers’ stats and information Twitter account, Georgiev is the seventh Rangers goalie who has made at least 50 saves in a game since the NHL began tracking the statistic in 1955-56 (Gump Worsley, Jacques Plante, Gilles Villemure, Glen Hanlon, Richter and Henrik Lundqvist are the others).
“What did I get him for his birthday? Nothing yet, but there’s going to be a big gift, soon,’’ coach David Quinn said. “Listen, he played outstanding. He’s gotten better and better.’’
“He was on his game,’’ defenseman Adam McQuaid said. “He made a ton of saves in tight, and he was really quick down low and he bailed us out on a number of occasions, so he deserves a lot of credit.”
McQuaid played a bit part in the win, which allowed the Rangers to close out their season-high five-game homestand with a 2-2-1 record. The stay-at-home defenseman scored his second goal of the season — and second in four games — to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead at 11:59 of the third period after the Leafs spent much of the period throwing the kitchen sink at Georgiev.
Kevin Hayes added an empty-net goal at 19:40 for the Rangers (24-23-8), who were outshot 56-30. The Leafs had 86 shot attempts and the Rangers had 46, according to the league’s official scoresheet.
First-period goals by Mika Zibanejad (at 28 seconds) and Jimmy Vesey (at 14:05) were sandwiched around Kasperi Kapanen’s goal at 10:35 as the Rangers took a 2-1 lead.
Now they will go on the road with a good feeling, thanks to Georgiev, who was born in Bulgaria but grew up in Russia and signed with the Rangers after a tryout in the summer of 2017.
Georgiev, whose previous career high in saves was 43 in a 5-1 win over Buffalo in March 2018, was asked if he had ever played a game like this. “Not in pro hockey, no, I don’t think so,’’ he said.
He said he likes to get a lot of shots (“it’s more fun for a goalie,’’ he said), though he conceded maybe not this many.
Asked if this might have been his best game ever, he said, “I’m not sure. I need to check this one later [on video] to see what happened. But it was one of the nicest performances.’’
The Rangers played with seven defensemen. Neal Pionk returned to the lineup after two games as a healthy scratch. Fourth-line forward Vinni Lettieri was scratched as Quinn decided to go with an 11-forward, seven-defenseman alignment.
It was the fifth time this season that the Rangers have played with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, and the previous two times they did it — against the Flyers Jan. 29 (1-0 loss) and the Kings Feb. 4 (4-3 overtime loss) — they didn’t look terribly out of sync. Said Quinn, “I’m getting more comfortable with it, for sure.’’
Notes & quotes: K’Andre Miller, one of the Rangers’ three first-round draft picks last summer, injured his left leg or knee in a crash into the boards Saturday night for Wisconsin against Ohio State. A Rangers spokesman said the team had no report on the injury’s severity.