NEW YORK -- The Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that is loaded with rookies still finding their way in the NHL, took another step Friday toward becoming a more consistent team and maybe even a playoff team.
Frederik Andersen made 34 saves as the Leafs grabbed an early lead and locked it down in the third period for a 4-2 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
The Maple Leafs (19-13-8) have lost seven games this season when leading after two periods, tied for the most in the league. Their most recent setback came Jan. 3 when they squandered a 4-2 lead to the Washington Capitals and lost 6-5 in overtime; since then, they've protected consecutive third-period leads and are 7-1-1 in their past nine games.
It wasn't perfect against the Rangers, as J.T. Miller cut the lead to 4-2 with 1:25 remaining, but the Leafs sustained enough pressure over the final 20 minutes to earn a power play that led to Connor Carrick's goal with 6:40 remaining to ice the game.
"Obviously I didn't like the last goal," Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "That makes no sense whatsoever. You have to learn how to win and we've still got a long way to go in that department. But we're taking steps. I thought the fourth goal was a huge one for us. It kind of took the wind out of their sails."
"I don't think we got away from the game plan," Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. "We stuck to what we were doing. That's an area of improvement we want to focus on here coming down the stretch. To go into the third with a lead and win one, this is a nice feeling."
The Rangers (28-14-1) had emotion on their side at puck drop, as the team honored New York City police detective Steven McDonald, who died Tuesday. He was paralyzed in 1986 when he was shot in the line of duty and had an "extra effort" award named after him that goes to a Ranger at the end of each season since 1988.
The Leafs and Rangers were both playing for the first time after a five-day bye week, but it was the Leafs who had the jump during the first 20 minutes.
"It was definitely a nice ceremony," Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "There were a lot of emotions for a lot of guys watching that, but when the game starts, you can't have any excuses for not being ready."
William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk scored first-period goals to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead. Both goals were scored five-hole on Lundqvist, who stopped just 23 of 27 shots. The Rangers never got closer than a goal over the rest of the game.
The specials teams were the difference; van Riemsdyk and Carrick scored power-play goals while the Leafs killed all six shorthanded chances they faced.
"It definitely played a part in the outcome of the game," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Our power play, which had been a real strong weapon for us the last little while, had quite a few opportunities but really didn't get any good looks. Their penalty-killing pressure was hard as far as us getting some quality looks. Our PK tonight gave them some real good opportunities and they made us pay for it."
Andersen stopped all five shots he faced with his team shorthanded and outplayed his Swedish counterpart in the other net.
"It was great to get a break for him, but it's four days off without seeing any shots," Brown said. "But he came back and looked as good as ever. It was really solid to see."
NOTES: Leafs G Curtis McElhinney, who was claimed off waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets this week, dressed as the backup. Mike Babcock said he will start Saturday in Ottawa. ... Toronto scratched LW Josh Leivo and D Frank Corrado. ... Rangers LW Rick Nash returned to the lineup after an eight-game absence due to a groin injury. ... New York LW Pavel Buchnevich was out 27 games while rehabbing a back injury before returning Friday. ... Rangers RW Jesper Fast missed practice Thursday with an illness but was able to play. ... New York D Marc Staal (concussion) missed his third straight game.