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Rangers fall, 5-3, as John Tavares gets two assists for Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) and

Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (91) and New York Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith (42) battle for the puck in front of Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) Credit: AP/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — There wasn’t any anger in the Rangers’ locker room after this one. As losses go, this one seemed not so bad. In fact, to hear the Rangers talk about it afterward, they felt as if their effort was one they almost could be proud of.

“That’s a good team. Lot of skill,’’ left wing and alternate captain Chris Kreider said of the Maple Leafs, who beat the Rangers, 5-3, on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena. “So they capitalized on our mistakes in the third. I mean, we’re right there. Right there the whole night. I think we liked our process.’’

Playing in front of backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who got the start over Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers kept fighting back every time it looked as if they were about to be knocked out.

They fell behind 1-0 at 2:58 of the first period on a deflection goal by Patrick Marleau but killed back-to-back penalties early in the second and tied the score late in the period on a goal by Neal Pionk.

They fell behind 3-1 early in the third but pulled to within 3-2 on a goal by Kevin Hayes at 6:34.

Then, after falling behind 4-2, they made it 4-3 late in the period on a goal by Kreider before Mitch Marner scored into an empty net for his second goal of the game to secure the victory for the Maple Leafs (24-10-2).

“There were a lot of good things tonight,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said. He wasn’t happy with some of the mistakes — a lost faceoff and blown coverage that led to one goal, a turnover inside the blue line that led to another — but he liked the fact that his team never stopped driving.

“We make it 4-3 and had chances to tie it,’’ he said. “A lot of good tonight. We’ve just got to keep building on it and moving forward.’’

Kreider, usually one of the more self-critical players in the Rangers’ locker room, said the team played a lot better than it has of late. He said this was the kind of game that the Rangers could take something from, even if they got no points.

“You have to take away the good and learn from the bad,’’ Kreider said. “I think, regardless of the outcome, I think our process and our games continue to improve. Seeing the young guys take tremendous strides every single night. There’s less thinking, more reacting, guys trusting their instincts.

“We’re tilting the ice more than we have been, especially against some pretty good teams, so we’ve just got to continue to do that, continue to work on our game, and I think the results will take care of themselves.’’

The night got off to an inauspicious start when Georgiev was beaten by Marleau’s deflection goal of Morgan Rielly’s left point shot. The shot was going in one direction and Marleau sent it in the other for his 10th goal.

Early in the second period, Adam McQuaid was penalized for holding — and then for cross-checking, as he hit Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, who had bumped Georgiev — and the Rangers were forced to play a man short for four straight minutes. But they killed that off, and later in the period, they tied it on a slap shot by Pionk that beat Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen at 15:00.

Toronto re-took the lead at 1:37 of the third period on a goal by Andreas Johnsson — former Islanders captain John Tavares got one of his two assists on the play — and Rielly scored on a wrist shot from the slot to make it 3-1 at 5:26. But the Rangers fought back and cut it to 3-2 before Marner made 4-2 at 12:53.

Kreider’s tip of Marc Staal’s shot made it 4-3 and gave the Rangers a chance. But the tying goal never came.

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