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Komarov shows off grit and skill to lead Maple Leafs past Rangers

11/08/2014 10:04 EST | Updated 01/08/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Arms in the air, Leo Komarov felt a weight lifted. In his first 13 games back with the Toronto Maple Leafs, he hadn't scored a goal.

"It's still in your head when you got zero goals," Komarov said. "You still think about it."

Komarov need no longer worry as his first goal of the season was the game winner. Along with a crucial play on a short-handed goal, too, Komarov led the way to a 5-4 victory over the Rangers on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre that snapped the Leafs' losing streak at two.

In his second tour of duty with the Leafs (7-5-2), the 27-year-old pest has already matched his nine points in 42 games his rookie year.

"Coming here, getting an opportunity to play for us for 48 games, it was kind of like a baptismal," coach Randy Carlyle said. "His rookie year and playoffs all that, it was a new eye-opener to him and he went back and played in the KHL. It seems like he's a lot more confident with the puck right now."

Confidence and instincts helped Komarov create two goals Saturday night against the Rangers (6-5-2). On the penalty kill in the first period, he got in the passing lane to disrupt play and muscled the puck up the ice before feeding Peter Holland for a short-handed goal.

"They just missed the pass there and that was the only way I could do it," Komarov said of taking the puck from New York's Matt Hunwick. "It was a lucky pass I gave to him."

His game winner, scored at 14:26 of the third, wasn't lucky. Defenceman Jake Gardiner, who redeemed himself for a mistake on an earlier Rangers goal, waited out the defence before getting the puck to Komarov, who fired it past backup goaltender Cam Talbot.

With the goal, Komarov made sure the Leafs wouldn't come up empty after erasing two deficits.

"It's always nice to score," Komarov said. "But I know I'm not going to score that much. It feels great to see the puck go in, but I think the win feels much better."

The Leafs will take the win, thanks to goals from Phil Kessel, Holland, Richard Panik, Roman Polak and Komarov and 31 saves from Jonathan Bernier and hope to build something when they visit the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night. It's the make-up game that was supposed to be played Oct. 22, the day of the shootings on Parliament Hill.

The Rangers, who got goals from Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin and Rick Nash — who tied Corey Perry for the NHL lead with 11, host the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. After this back-and-forth affair, players weren't happy with the openness they gave Toronto.

"I think we caused our own problems tonight," said centre Derek Stepan, who was strong in making his season debut after missing time with a broken leg. "We put ourselves in tough spots managing the puck and the game."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault took issue with what he considered a couple of questionable penalty calls. But that didn't absolve his team of blame.

"We made some poor decisions that led to goals on their part," Vigneault said. "This is the NHL. They've got a good team and they can score a lot of goals. You'd think four goals on the road is enough to win, but it wasn't enough tonight."

Talbot allowed five goals on 31 shots.

Given the amount of chances back and forth, that doesn't seem so bad. This was the kind of game that won't be part of defensive highlight reels, for sure, but it was entertaining.

"A couple times in a matter of a couple shifts it seemed like we were going up and down the ice," Holland said. "At the end of the day we want to make sure that we're not giving up odd-man rushes like we did a couple times there."

The Leafs will take the good with that bad because it meant two points after just one on a Western Conference road trip. This one meant even more because they managed to come back not once but twice without wilting.

"I felt like we didn't panic tonight that much," Bernier said. "I thought we played a solid 60 minutes."

Notes — The Leafs saluted several veterans prior to the game in advance of Remembrance Day. James Dewar of the 48th Highlanders performed "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes before Scotty Newlands performed a stirring rendition of "O Canada." ... During the first period Johnny Bower was honoured on his 90th birthday. The Leafs legend received a framed print signed by players from both teams. ... Leafs forward Daniel Winnik was held out after falling headfirst Thursday night in Colorado. Carlyle said the team was following league and NHLPA protocol. ... Morgan Rielly returned to the Leafs' lineup after being a healthy scratch at the Avalanche. He replaced Stuart Percy. ... Kessel was playing in his 600th career NHL game and David Clarkson his 500th.

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