New York Rangers goaltender Steve Valiquette moves to block a shot from Toronto Maple Leafs Mats Sundin, during a shoot-out in Toronto, Saturday. The New York Rangers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
TORONTO - The New York Rangers were the only NHL team without a road win, and they wanted to get it with Mark Messier watching.
Marcel Hossa's decisive shootout goal gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the annual Hockey Hall of Fame game Saturday night.
The Rangers had gone 0-5-1 on the road. They stood on their blue-line during pre-game ceremonies when 2007 inductees Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens and Jim Gregory walked along a carpet to centre ice. They were inspired.
"It was a big game and a big night," said Brendan Shanahan. "Mess is here and we wanted to go out and have a proud showing for the New York Rangers."
In the shootout, Toronto's Nik Antropov took the first shootout shot and Steve Valiquette made the save. Shanahan was the first New York shooter and beat Vesa Toskala high on the glove side.
Leafs captain Mats Sundin shot high and wide before Hossa got his chance. The six-foot-three Slovak deked twice to confuse Toskala and buried the puck behind the Finn to end it.
Valiquette got his first start after Henrik Lundqvist played every minute of the Rangers' first 16 games.
"For Steve Valiquette to get a win, in a shootout, in his home town was great," said Shanahan, who also is from Toronto.
Valiquette was the Rangers' backbone, said coach Tom Renney.
"I was as calm as I could be under the circumstances - with all the pre-game stuff and the magnitude of the game," said Valiquette.
Toskala was good, too, through 65 minutes, although he remains without a shootout win in his career.
"That's the one thing I want to get better at, that's for sure," he said. "Those are 50-50-chance shots.
"Still, those are big points."
Sean Avery, alias The Pickering Pest, set up Shanahan for a goal and scored one himself as the Rangers jumped ahead 2-0 during regulation time.
Alexei Ponikarovsky scored both of Toronto's goals in front of a season-high Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,530.
"We had momentum and were pumped up and cheering for each other," Ponikarovsky said of his team's rally. "I was sure we were going to score another one."
It was not to be.
The Leafs won 3-0 in Buffalo on Friday and coming back from a two-goal deficit to get another point Saturday left them feeling optimistic about the next stretch of the schedule.
"That was a good comeback," said Toskala. "Overall, it was a pretty good weekend with three points out of four.
"I guess we have to be happy with that."
There was a group stare-off involving all players on the ice at the boards between the benches after Avery and Darcy Tucker - both wear 16 - exchanged words during the warmup, and the two were yapping again in the 12th minute. Tucker dropped his gloves, Avery did not, and both were sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct. They were back on the ice for eight seconds before the gloves came off and they were going at each other with their fists.
"They're pot-stirrers," Shanahan said afterwards. "They're very rare - guys that are talented and can agitate.
"They play with big hearts. They had their run-ins last year, too. They're the same player. Sean's a younger version of Darcy."
The Rangers' goals came 42 seconds apart from the line of Shanahan, Avery and Scott Gomez early in the second period.
Gomez won a faceoff in Toronto's end and passed to Avery, who took the puck behind the Leafs' net. A backhand pass sent the puck to Shanahan at the front of the crease and the puck was instantaneously behind Toskala at 1:43.
Avery dodged Pavel Kubina to get to the rebound of a Toskala save off Shanahan and score at 2:25.
Ponikarovsky got his two goals in two minutes.
The six-foot-four Ukrainian blasted a slap shot from the circle to the left of a kneeing Valiquette into the top short-side corner of the net at 16:54. Ian White's pass to Antropov at the blue-line should have resulted in an off-sides whistle, but play continued and the goal counted.
Ponikarovsky then slammed a rebound past a kneeling Valiquette at 18:54. The point Sundin got for assisting gave him 1,267 in his career, tying him with Jean Ratelle for 32nd place on the all-time list.
The Leafs' Boyd Devereaux was sent off for hooking with 3:27 remaining in regulation. The Rangers would try to remove the power-play doughnut served up by both teams, but they couldn't do it.
Tucker hooked Hossa as Hossa nearly scored in the closing seconds of regulation time, and the Rangers started overtime with another manpower advantage. They came up empty again.
The shootout would decide it.
"I didn't watch any tapes before the game on their shooters," said Toskala. "I did watch last year and it didn't work that well so changed it up this year.
"It hasn't worked yet. We just have to work harder."
If not for Valiquette, the Rangers would not have escaped with two points. They were shaky in the third period when Toronto outshot them 10-6.
"We just haven't played that well as a group on the road this season," said captain Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr, who scored 54 goals in 2005-2006 and slipped to 30 in 2006-2007, has only three in the Rangers' 17 games. But they didn't need a goal from their captain on this night.
"It's definitely a game we want to build on," added Shanahan.
Notes: Toronto had a 34-27 shots edge. ... Both teams were 0-for-4 on power plays. ... New York entered the game with a league-best 1.67 goals-against average, while Toronto's 3.53 GAA was 29th in the 30-team league. ... The pre-game ceremonies also marked Remembrance Day and there was a touching reading of In Flanders Fields by a Canadian Forces veteran. ... Sundin's next goal will be his 533rd and will lift him even with Frank Mahovlich for 27th place. ... The Leafs' healthy scratches were John Pohl, who sat out a second straight game, Wade Belak, idle for a third consecutive game, and Bates Battaglia, deleted for a fifth in a row. ... Toronto plays at home against Montreal on Tuesday, is in Boston on Thursday and is back home next Saturday against Ottawa.