NEW YORK — Chris Kreider provided a big boost to the Rangers in his return from a one-game absence.
Kreider and Mika Zibanejad scored in a 6-second span late in the first period and the New York Rangers earned a 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
Kreider and Zibanejad each had a goal and an assist, Pavel Buchnevich had a goal and two assists and Filip Chytil and Greg McKegg also scored for the Rangers. Rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves to win for the fourth time in five starts this season.
Kreider returned to the lineup after missing Monday’s loss to Dallas. Kreider was accidentally hit in the head by Zibanejad's knee in Saturday’s win at Detroit.
“Any time you lose a player like Kreids you’re gonna notice and you’re gonna notice when he comes back,” Zibanejad said.
Kreider, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, is a candidate to be traded at the league’s deadline in a few weeks.
“I thought all three of those guys were really good tonight," Rangers coach David Quinn said of his top line.
"I thought Kreider coming back from a scary incident and missing one game, give him a lot of credit for stepping up, picking up really from where he left off, didn’t have any rust.”
Auston Matthews had two goals and John Tavares also scored and added an assist for the Maple Leafs, who are in a tight race for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“I thought we started well, but we continue to have these lulls throughout the game,” Matthews said. "We’re just not playing at our best.”
Backup goalie Michael Hutchinson, who had won his previous four starts, had 30 saves for Toronto. Starter Frederik Andersen left Monday’s loss to Florida with a neck injury. The Maple Leafs blew a 3-1 third-period lead and lost 5-3 to the Panthers.
After the game, the Leafs acquired goaltender Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford from the Los Angeles Kings for forward Trevor Moore, Columbus’ third-round pick in the 2020 draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2021.
Tied 1-1 late in the first period, the Rangers scored two quick goals to stun the Leafs.
First, Kreider won a draw in the Toronto zone and Zibanejad ripped a wrist shot past Hutchinson for his 21st of the season at 17:18.
Then on the subsequent faceoff, Zibanejad won the draw and Kreider took off with the puck and fended off
“We get two faceoffs right away there that we weren’t alive on,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. "They happen: bang, bang. It goes (from) 2-1, we can manage that, 3-1 is tough. So that was a big moment.”
The franchise record for the fastest two goals is 4 seconds, set by Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash on Oct. 19, 2014.
Matthews scored his second goal of the game and his 39th of the season on the power play at 16:32 of the third to cut it to 4-3. But McKegg scored an empty-netter to hand the Leafs their second consecutive loss.
Trailing 3-1 after the first, the Maple Leafs scored late in the second period. After sustained pressure in the Rangers' zone, Matthews sent a backhand to the net that beat Shesterkin at 16:56.
The Rangers regained their two-goal lead just 34 seconds later. Hutchinson briefly lost his stick and while scrambling to get reset, Buchnevich scored his 11th of the season at 17:30 to make it 4-2.
Coming off the blown lead against the Panthers, the Maple Leafs opened the scoring against the Rangers.
Holl sent a pass to William Nylander, who wristed a shot on the net. Tavares connected on the rebound into an open net and scored his 20th of the season at 7:36. Tavares has scored at least 20 goals in each of his 11 seasons.
The Rangers answered a short time later.
Tony DeAngelo sent a pass from the right faceoff circle that Chytil slid into the net for his 12th at 8:50 to tie it at 1-1.
“We kept it simple tonight," Kreider said. "We worked for each other. It's a recipe we can take into most games, regardless of who we are playing.”
NOTES: 2002 Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Sarah Hughes was in attendance. ... Frederik Gauthier, Martin Marincin were scratched by the Leafs. ... Alexandar Georgiev, Brendan Smith were scratched for the Rangers.
Maple Leafs: Host Anaheim on Friday night.
Rangers: Host Buffalo on Friday night in third game of a four-game homestand.
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Simmi Buttar, The Associated Press