NEW YORK -- Perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs will eventually fade into the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, a place they've occupied with regularity since 2005-06. But for now, they are the best team in the League.
Phil Kessel's power-play goal 3:08 into overtime -- his second goal of the game -- gave the Leafs a 4-3 victory and ruined the home opener for the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. The Leafs improved to a League-best 4-0-0 after failing to pick up their fourth win last season until Nov. 21.
The Maple Leafs let a two-goal lead slip away in the third period despite the Rangers losing sniper Marian Gaborik and captain Chris Drury to injuries during the second period. Gaborik suffered a separated shoulder on a hit from behind by Leafs forward Colby Armstrong that resulted in a boarding penalty; Drury broke the same finger that cost him four weeks in a collision with teammate Michal Rozsival and will miss another six weeks with a different break.
The Rangers received a shot in the arm from an unlikely source. Brian Boyle, who had just 4 goals in 71 games last season, scored twice during the first 6:19 of the third period to erase the two-goal deficit.
But the Leafs showed toughness and emerged with two more early-season points.
"When the Rangers made it 3-2, you knew the crowd would get into it and they'd feel a little boost of adrenaline," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "We didn't lose our composure. We got a couple big saves from (Jean-Sebastien Giguere) when we needed them. We found a way to win."
Three goals in a span of 5:46 during the second period from Clarke MacArthur, Mike Komisarek and Kessel turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 Leafs lead. MacArthur's goal was his League-leading fifth of the season. The lead seemed insurmountable, as the Leafs dominated the first two periods and held a 30-12 shot advantage.
The Rangers showed resiliency of their own in the third period to earn a consolation point after being overwhelmed by the speedy Leafs for the first two periods.
"They played smart," said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who said he was screened on Kessel's game-winner. "We had a really tough time settling things down. We bounced back in the third and played really well and never gave up. They played a good game. They are a good team."
The Rangers struck first thanks to some nice work by Sean Avery, who held the puck behind the Maple Leafs goal with his back to the play. He passed the puck along the boards to the top of the zone to Rozsival, who stepped into a wrist shot that beat a screened Giguere to put the Rangers ahead 1-0 at 7:58 of the first period.
Lundqvist was busy throughout the opening period, stopping all 16 shots he faced. He made three tough saves while shorthanded for the final two minutes of the period, including a beauty where he slid across his crease to rob Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle on a one-timer.
The onslaught continued in the second period, only this time the shots turned into a bevy of goals.
MacArthur's goal came 2:04 into the period, just four seconds after a penalty to Drury had expired. Nikolai Kulemin's shot from in tight hit the left post, but MacArthur was right there in the crease to sweep it home and even the score.
"Seems to be going in the right direction here," MacArthur said. "We’re all really excited. It’s awesome. We’re just real excited with the win. I think we got offense on a lot of lines and it was great to see Phil get two tonight and when he gets hot, it’s scary. We just want to keep rolling with it."
Komisarek scored his first of the season 2:53 later with what looked like a harmless wrister from the top of the circle near the right-wing boards. Lundqvist may have been screened, but the puck somehow found a way through him to put the Leafs up 2-1.
Just 1:53 later, Kessel finished a 2-on-1 after a gorgeous feed from Tyler Bozak to put the Leafs ahead 3-1. Bozak looked to be in the clear for a breakaway down the left wing, but he chose to slam on the breaks and slide the puck to a streaking Kessel, who banged home his third of the season.
The Leafs outshot the Rangers 14-5 in the second period.
Boyle brought the Rangers to within 3-2 early in the third period. His long wrist shot appeared to tip off the stick of Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and over the catching glove of Giguere.
That's when Boyle rose to the occasion once again. Avery, fresh from the penalty box, centered the puck from behind the net. Giguere had lost track of the puck and Boyle took advantage, snapping a shot from between the circles to even the score with 13:41 left in regulation.
"Brian's had it right from the get-go," said Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky. "Since training camp he's had a chip on his shoulder. You’ve seen it throughout the preseason and tonight was another example that he is an important part of this team. He's the type of guy who will embrace an increased role and step up."
In the end, the Rangers couldn't climb out of the early hole. After all, it's pretty tough to come back from two goals down against the best team in the League.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo