TORONTO — It had been so long since there were smiles in the Rangers’ locker room after a game that they were a strange sight Saturday night. Alexandar Georgiev had the biggest one after the Rangers’ stunning 2-1 overtime victory over the high-flying Maple Leafs.
“Great feeling,’’ Georgiev said with a grin after making 44 saves. “It’s kind of like winning Stanley Cup, maybe. It’s always like that when it’s a tough streak and you finally win.’’
Ryan Strome scored the winner 1:48 into overtime to end the Rangers’ losing streak at five games and end their losing streak in overtime at nine games.
And while the win doesn’t do anything for the Rangers in a practical way — except maybe hurt their odds in the NHL draft lottery — it certainly seemed to be something the team could enjoy.
“I’m just really proud of our guys,’’ coach David Quinn said. “It’s been a tough stretch, as we’ve all talked about. And to come up here, in this building, and get two points — against this team, who’s in the middle of a playoff battle for positioning and seeding and home ice — says an awful lot about our character.
“One of the things we talked about this morning is, listen, they have more talent than us,’’ Quinn said. “We know that. But we can’t control that. There are certain things we can control, and we touched on those things, and I thought we did a good job managing the things that we could control.’’
The winning goal came when Boo Nieves and Strome broke in two-on-one on Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. Nieves’ shot was stopped, but he ended up with the rebound and got it to Strome, who did not miss.
With the Rangers having lost 12 of the last 14 overall (2-7-5, with both wins coming against the Devils), Quinn desperately tried to figure out a way to win one against a Toronto team 24 points ahead of them in the standings.
Before the game, he said there was a way the Rangers needed to play if they were going to beat the Maple Leafs. And what he wanted, which was apparent early on, was for his team to be physical and to shoot the puck often.
The Rangers were credited with 14 hits to the Leafs’ seven in the first period, and in the final boxscore, the hits were 28-16. But the shooting thing, that didn’t come as naturally. Although they had periods in which they fired shots, as instructed to, there still were times when they passed up shots they could have taken.
In one sequence late in the second period, Pavel Buchnevich passed to Mika Zibanejad instead of shooting on a two-on-one, and Zibanejad, at a bad angle, tried to pass it back. The Rangers did not get a shot on the play.
Buchnevich finally broke the ice with an ugly goal — his 18th overall — 19 seconds into the third period. He put in the rebound of a shot by Brady Skjei after Skjei and Brendan Lemieux drove the net and fell in front of the crease, creating a pile of bodies in front of Andersen. After he scored, he punched the air in celebration.
Toronto tied it on Zach Hyman’s goal off a scramble. John Tavares corralled a rebound in the slot and dropped a pass for Hyman, who swept the puck into the net at 8:33 for his 19th goal.
Georgiev, who made a team-record 55 saves to beat the Leafs, 4-1, the last time he faced them on Feb. 10 in the Garden, stood tall for the Rangers after that, stopping 19 of 20 shots in the third period to get the game to overtime.