TORONTO — Headhunting season continues in the NHL.
Late in the first period of the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs on Thursday night, a targeted elbow to the face by Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov sent Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh to the sidelines with a head injury for the second time in 12 days.
In his second game back from a concussion, McDonagh was dropped by an unprompted blow from Komarov, who took two strides at him at the blue line with the puck nowhere in sight. He slammed his left elbow into McDonagh’s head, and the defenseman crumpled to the ice with 1:02 left in the first.
Kevin Klein went after Komarov and received two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Komarov received a five-minute match penalty for an illegal hit to the head, triggering an ejection and an automatic review.
McDonagh, who missed four games after being sucker-punched in the jaw by the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds on Feb. 6, went slowly to the bench and remained there, helmet off, being examined by trainers, for the final minute of the period. The defenseman did not return to the bench at the start of the second period, and the team said he would not return to the game “for precautionary reasons.”
The Rangers, who trailed 1-0 at the time, were livid, and took the lead in the second period after some terrific saves from Antti Raanta, who rebounded big-time from a rusty start six days ago in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Kings. He made 35 saves for his first win since Nov. 15, which came against these Leafs.
Derick Brassard, with his team leading 21st goal, one-timed Keith Yandle’s pass from the top of the right circle past Jonathan Bernier at 3:56 to tie the score on a 5-on-3 power play. The Blueshirts (33-19-6, 72 points) took the lead when Bernier stopped Derek Stepan’s shot but left a rebound, and Mats Zuccarello backhanded a shot at the prone Bernier, whose extended pad was in the net. The puck went over the goal line, and bounced back out at 9:24. A review confirmed Zuccarello’s goal.
At 11:59, the Rangers were whistled for too many men on the ice, but Rannta, sharp and confident, helped the Blueshirts kill a third Leafs power play. They had allowed three power-play goals against Chicago on Wednesday.
As was the case against Chicago in the third period, the Rangers continued to take penalties, with two more coming in the third, but escaped.
The Leafs, who are last in the Eastern Conference at 20-27-9, rank 30th on the power play, but Colin Greening scored through a pile in front of the net with 2:30 left in regulation to tie the score at 2.
The response came 59 seconds later, when J.T. Miller forced a turnover, got the puck to Zuccarello, who fed Stepan for a 3-2 lead, and Brassard added an empty-netter with 19.9 left to seal the victory.
The Rangers should have trailed by more than 1-0 after 20 minutes except for Raanta, who made 12 saves, about half a dozen on open shots, as the Rangers seemed to have left their legs at customs.
The Leafs went ahead 1-0 at 3:58 of the first period when the puck went in off P.A. Parenteau’s skate. A review upheld the goal.
In his last start, Raanta had surrendered a goal on the first shot by the Kings, but he was far more confident on Thursday, preventing the Leafs from extending the lead and helping kill off a penalty to Oscar Lindberg at 9:39 with a high glove save on Jake Gardiner.