Rangers drop Leafs in a shootout

Toronto Maple Leafs Joey Crabb manages to score as the puck trickles under New York Rangers goalie...

Toronto Maple Leafs Joey Crabb manages to score as the puck trickles under New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the second period of Saturdaynight's game at the ACC. (REUTERS)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:27 AM ET

Under Randy Carlyle’s defence-first philosophy as coach of the Maple Leafs, defencemen shouldn’t jump into the rush unless they are absolutely sure they can recover if it’s required.

The little-used Cody Franson had that positive feeling on Saturday night.

The 2011-12 season might be lost from a team perspective, officially or not, but Franson, slated to be a restricted free agent this summer, has lots to prove to Carlyle, who barely has used the 24-year-old blueliner.

Against the New York Rangers at the Air Canada Centre, Franson dressed for just the fourth time in Carlyle’s 12 games as coach of the Leafs and scored a pretty goal on a two-on-one feed from Phil Kessel in a 4-3 Leafs shootout loss.

“When he came in here, there had to be an odd guy out and I was that guy,” Franson said. “He said he needs to see leadership qualities out of me in terms of being a good teammate and a positive guy around the room.

“I almost pulled out (on the rush with Kessel) at the last second because it looked like he was going to shoot. But that’s the kind of player he is (with the cross-crease feed past a sliding Tim Erixon), he can make plays like that.”

Though Franson is just one player Carlyle is trying to get a handle on in the final weeks of the regular season, in the bigger picture, it’s a pity the Leafs are unlikely to surprise most observers and find a way to make the playoffs.

With six games remaining, they’re in 13th place in the Eastern Conference with 75 points, nine back of the hot Buffalo Sabres, who have moved into eighth place.

Had the Leafs held ground in the area of eighth, there’s a chance they would have met the Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament. Unlike the domination the Boston Bruins have held over the Leafs, the Rangers can’t make a similar claim. In four games against the Rangers, the Leafs took five of a possible eight points.

But when Ryan Callahan beat Jonas Gustavsson for the winner in the shootout, it extended the Leafs’ franchise record home-losing streak to nine games (0-6-3). Toronto has not won at the ACC since Feb. 6 when it beat the Edmonton Oilers 6-3 and everything was looking great for Ron Wilson.

Gustavsson made 30 saves in his first start in seven games. The Leafs failed to capitalize on three power plays in the third period.

The line of David Steckel between Tim Connolly and Joey Crabb was matched against the Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik combination and held its own, supplying the Leafs with two goals and five points to give it eight points in the past two games.

Gaborik scored twice for the Rangers to equal the goals scored by Connolly and Crabb, and Brandon Dubinsky also scored for the Rangers.

“As a line, we like the challenge,” Steckel said. “It’s a role we have taken on and are working hard at it.

“What happens at home, we are trying to win every game, regardless of whether we get booed or if we get cheered. We went in with that mentality and we fell a point short.”

Mike Komisarek was a healthy scratch so Franson, whose goal on Henrik Lundqvist opened the scoring, could take a regular shift. The 6-foot-5, 213-pound Franson responded by tying for the Leafs’ lead with six hits, but acknowledged after he never has played to his size.

“Big men who naturally are not physical have to learn to get that one half-step inside,” Carlyle said. “If he can learn to use his body to shield the puck, and step into people and use his God-given size, versus trying to control people with your arms and your stick — that is a technique that young defencemen and oversized defencemen take longer to develop. It just takes more playing time and more practice time.”


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