TORONTO — Rangers president Glen Sather, stone-faced, emerged from the trainer’s room after checking the condition of captain Ryan McDonagh, who Thursday night was felled by an illegal check to the head for the second time in 12 days.
But he stopped in front of Antti Raanta’s locker, offering an open palm, which the winning goaltender slapped, and Sather slowly moved on.
As the days dwindle toward the playoffs, the Rangers also have to move on, possibly without their best defenseman again, after a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs.
In his second game back after missing four with a concussion, McDonagh was dropped by an unprompted left elbow to the face from Leafs forward Leo Komarov, who took two strides at him at the blue line. The defenseman crumpled with 1:02 left in the first period.
Kevin Klein immediately went after Komarov, who received a five-minute match penalty for an illegal hit to the head, triggering an ejection and an automatic review by the league.
McDonagh, who was sucker-punched in the jaw by the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds on Feb. 6, went slowly to the bench and remained there while being examined by trainers during the final minute of the period. He did not return “for precautionary reasons,” the team said.
“It’s the exact hit we talked about five, six years ago,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “We wanted it out of the game. It’s starting to creep back in . . . Something needs changing, education or whatever. There’s no reason for that hit.”
Said coach Alain Vigneault: “I’m not going to comment. I think I was pretty clear what I thought of the last one . I’m going to leave it to the league.”
The Rangers, who trailed 1-0 at the time, took the lead in the second period after some terrific saves by Raanta, who rebounded from a rusty start six days ago in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Kings. He made 35 saves for his first win since Nov. 15.
“He was phenomenal tonight,” said Derek Stepan, who scored at 18:29 of the third to provide a 3-2 lead after Colin Greening’s goal 59 seconds earlier had tied the score. Derick Brassard scored his second of the game into an empty net with 20 seconds left.
Watching McDonagh, his long-time friend from Minnesota, go down again was hard to take for Stepan. “It’s a hit we’re trying to get rid of,” he said. “We can’t have guys taking runs like that. It’s hard not to lose your focus. Your first thought is you want to get back , but you can’t play that way. We’re in a situation where we need points really badly, and the only way to get back at him is to come out with the two points. We were able to respond in the right way.”
Brassard one-timed Keith Yandle’s pass from the top of the right circle past Jonathan Bernier to tie the score at 1 at 3:56 of the second on a five-on-three power play. The Rangers (33-19-6, 72 points) made it 2-1 when Mats Zuccarello slid a backhander at the prone netminder, whose pad was in the net. The puck went over the goal line at 9:24.
The Rangers would have trailed by more than 1-0 after 20 minutes if not for Raanta, who made 12 saves, half on open shots. Said Vigneault, “There’s no doubt if not for Antti, it wouldn’t have been a game.”