TORONTO – First a sucker punch to the cheek, now an elbow to the head.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh crumpled to the ice late in the first period of Thursday night’s 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs and left at the intermission after Toronto forward Leo Komarov took several strides and connected with a predatory, seemingly premeditated elbow.
The Rangers provided no update on McDonagh after riding Antti Raanta’s brilliant 35 saves to victory in an otherwise horrible effort at Air Canada Centre. But Komarov’s vicious, suspension-worthy check potentially delivered the captain’s second concussion in 13 days.
Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds concussed McDonagh with a sucker punch on Feb. 6 in Philadelphia, sidelining him for four games. Thursday night marked just McDonagh’s second game back in the lineup since recovering from that blow. Komarov was ejected but that hardly helps the Blueshirts’ long-term cause.
“That’s our captain, and he just came back from a concussion,” said left wing J.T. Miller, who had three assists, including the takeaway to set up Derek Stepan’s go-ahead winner at 18:29 of the third. “He’s the least ideal guy you want to see go down. He just came back and he’s trying to get his game going again. It’s frustrating, but in the game, even though it wasn’t pretty, we found a way to play through it.”
Unlike Simmonds, who was not suspended for punching McDonagh, Komarov should expect a call from the league’s department of player safety despite having no disciplinary history. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who flipped last week when the NHL let Simmonds skate, resisted venting about the Komarov hit perhaps because he knows the elbow was so obviously “dirty,” as multiple players said.
Toronto Maple Leafs center Leo Komarov (c.) hits Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh hard in the head with a dirty elbow Thursday night.
“Obviously it was on everybody’s mind there, especially considering what happened (in Philadelphia),” Vigneault said. “We all saw the hit. I won’t comment on it, but hopefully he’ll be alright… I’m gonna let the league decide on it. I think I was pretty clear on what I thought of the last one, and I’m gonna let their people do what they’re supposed to.”
Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein skated across the rink and dropped his gloves to try to get at Komarov despite a broken right thumb, but the officials intervened. Rookie Dylan McIlrath was a healthy scratch or there could have been more fireworks.
Klein’s attempt at a fight, though, was literally the Rangers’ first sign of life outside of Raanta and McDonagh in possibly their worst period of the season. Even in the third period, with the Rangers up 2-1, Dominic Moore’s lost faceoff led to a Colin Greening game-tying goal at 17:30.
The recurrence of these no-show stretches is maddening and Thursday’s started with the putrid first period.
“You pick it, you name it,” alternate captain Marc Staal said, back in the lineup after missing Wednesday night’s 5-3 loss to the Blackhawks for the birth of his second daughter. “We were bad on the puck, getting beat out of the corners. They were better than us. We weren’t ready. I can’t attribute it to anything. We were brutal.”
Raanta made seven great stops with Leafs alone in the slot in just the game’s first 20 minutes. He pointed to a glove save on Jake Gardiner with Toronto on the power play as the stop that locked him in and restored the confidence that he’d lost in a 5-4 OT loss to the Kings exactly one week ago.
“It’s a great feeling and it’s a nice plane trip back to New York now,” Raanta said with a smile after his first win since Nov. 15, a home victory over these same Leafs.
Rangers goalie Antti Raanta plays well, making 35 saves in the victory.
The Rangers (33-19-6, 72 points) got most of their scoring from Miller, Mats Zuccarello (goal, two assists), Derick Brassard (two goals), and Stepan (goal, assist).
The Blueshirts’ penalty kill went 5-for-5, answering Wednesday night’s 1-for-4 disaster against Chicago. Part of the reason is that the Leafs (20-27-9, 49 points) are the NHL’s worst team and were missing almost all of their recognizable, NHL-level players due to injury.
Vigneault reunited Brassard and Zuccarello for the first time since the Rangers’ last no-show performance, a 3-0 loss in Ottawa on Jan. 24. But they provided much of the offense to support the game’s top star.
“He saved the day,” Miller said of Raanta. “Especially in the first. It could have been 4-0 or 5-0.”
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