For the longest time, the Rangers were up and down, up and down, winning a game, losing the next, then winning again and starting the whole cycle over.
They’re out of that phase now, but not in a good way.
Three third-period goals by the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs handed the Rangers their third straight loss Friday, as they fell, 6-3 at the Garden, in a game that coach David Quinn called “one of our poorer performances in a while.’’
“I didn’t love our intensity,’’ the coach said. “There just wasn’t a lot of purpose to what we were doing, in all three zones. Our turnovers really hurt us… If you’re going to beat that team, you’ve got to spend way more time in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that tonight.’’
William Nylander and Mitch Marner each had two goals for the Leafs, and the pair scored 47 seconds apart early in the third period to break a 3-3 tie and put Toronto in complete control. Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who has played so well of late for the Rangers, and who had seemed to be slowly taking over as the Blueshirts’ No. 1 goalie, struggled. And he showed his frustration, banging his stick against the crossbar after Marner’s second goal made it 5-3.
“I’m frustrated,’’ Georgiev said. “A couple goals in the third, I need to be better on those. I’m frustrated about that.’’
The 23-year-old Russian, who put up a 2-1 record with a 2.01 goals against average and .956 save percentage against the Leafs last season, made 34 saves, but he wasn’t happy with the second Nylander goal, the shot off the rush from the right wing that beat him at 2:10 of the third to make it 4-3.
“The fourth one was a huge goal for them,’’ Georgiev said. “They managed to score it and from that moment on, it’s kind of an open game on both ends.’’
Marner then stole a back pass from Ryan Strome in the left wing circle in the Rangers’ zone, cut across the middle and beat Georgiev with a wrist shot to make it 5-3 at 2:57. Ilya Mikheyev scored at 16:23 to make it 6-3.
“The fifth goal was just a reflection of what we were doing all night long,’’ Quinn said. “And we paid the fiddler, when we did it for the 20th or 30th time of the night. When you get a puck and just stop inside your blue line, against that team, you’re just begging for trouble.’’
Quinn, asked to rate Georgiev’s performance, refused to say anything bad about the goaltender.
“I didn’t love any part of our game tonight,’’ Quinn said. “And he’s been really good for us. So, probably a game that he’d like to be a bit better in, but we didn’t do him any favors.’’
The Leafs (18-14-4) took a 2-0 lead midway through the first period after rookie Pierre Engvall got free in the slot and finished a pass from Justin Holl at 9:38 and then Nylander banged in a rebound at 11:52. But the Rangers tied it up before the period was over, with Brady Skjei knocking in a centering pass from Mika Zibanejad at 14:04 and Strome finishing a pass from Artemi Panarin at 17:51.
Toronto scored on a five-on-three power play when Marner’s feed for John Tavares deflected in off Skjei’s stick at 2:50 of the second, but Pavel Buchnevich, who had gone nine games without a point, scored on the rebound of Marc Staal's shot at 5:27 to tie it at 3-3. Buchnevich also had an assist on the Strome goal.