Panarin scores OT winner to lift Rangers over Maple Leafs, spoil Matthews’ return

Artemi Panarin scored in overtime, Igor Shesterkin stopped 40 shots, and the New York Rangers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Monday night.

Mika Zibanejad added a goal and an assist for New York (2-1-1) for the 100th two-point game of his NHL career.

Michael Bunting replied for Toronto (2-1-1), which got 21 saves from Jack Campbell.

Panarin won it at 3:48 of a frantic end-to-end extra period off a faceoff in the Leafs’ end. He played a quick give-and-go with Zibanejad before firing a shot past Campbell.

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Auston Matthews made his 2021-22 debut for the Leafs after sitting out Toronto’s first three games as he finished rehabbing following surgery on his left wrist.

The 24-year-old centre dealt with the nagging injury much of last season when the schedule was shortened to 56 games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but still led the NHL with a career-high 41 goals in just 52 contests.

Monday’s game was the first for Toronto against an U.S.-based opponent since the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Leafs on Aug. 9, 2020, to win their qualifying round series at Scotiabank Arena inside the NHL’s post-season bubble.

The league’s seven Canadian franchises played in the one-time-only North Division in 2020-21 because of pandemic border restrictions related to non-essential international travel.

Monday’s attendance was announced at 18,098 spectators, marking the third consecutive game at Scotiabank Arena that fell short of a sellout.

The Leafs welcomed crowds of 18,493 and 18,211 last week — fans 12 years of age and up must be fully vaccinated and all spectators are required to wear masks when not eating or drinking — after getting the green light from the provincial government to push capacity limits to 100 per cent.

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The Leafs consider anything over 18,819 to be a full house, although the team attracted 19,124 fans on March 10, 2020, in their last home game before the pandemic brought the sports world to a grinding halt.

Matthews didn’t have to wait long to test out his wrist in live game action, but Shesterkin turned away his first two shots on a Toronto power play early in the first.

Nils Lundkvist hit the post behind Campbell at the other end a couple of minutes later before Zibanejad eventually opened the scoring off a turnover when he ripped a shot that struck iron and pinballed off the television camera inside Toronto’s net at 13:49.

Leafs winger William Nylander, who came in with points in all three games, then hit the post off a slick feed from Matthews in the neutral zone.

Toronto pulled even 1:36 into the second when Morgan Rielly’s shot on Shesterkin caromed in off a hard-charging Bunting for his second goal in as many games.

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The Rangers, who were minus winger Kaapo Kakko (upper-body injury) and centre Ryan Strome (COVID-19 protocol), were on their heels most of the period as the home side came in waves.

But Shesterkin stood tall on chances for Travis Dermott and Matthews on the follow. New York’s netminder then robbed both Matthews and Rielly to keep things at 1-1 despite Toronto’s 53-20 edge in shot attempts through 40 minutes.

Matthews fired his sixth shot of the night on Shesterkin early in the third on a Rangers giveaway, but was again unable to find a way through.

Campbell didn’t have a lot to do at the other end until he made a big stop on Sammy Blais midway through the period — which had the crowd respond with a resounding “Souuuuup” chant in honour of the Toronto goalie’s nickname.

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