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Leafs beat Rangers, close in on Senators as battle brews again

NEW YORK—There will be a Battle of Ontario when the Leafs and Senators meet Saturday night in Ottawa.

The two teams are bumping up against each other in the standings after the Leafs stopped a very good New York Rangers team 4-2 here Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Toronto moved to within two points of Ottawa, third in the Atlantic, thanks to a stellar night from its special teams and from goaltender Frederik Andersen, who stopped 34 of 36 shots.

Both teams will reach the halfway mark of the season Saturday, with another 41 games — and three months of intensity — to go before the playoffs come into full view.

But, for now, the Leafs are riding a playoff-worthy stretch, where they’ve won seven of nine games and scored a pair of power-play goals in each of their last four games.

Couple that with six straight penalty kills against a New York Rangers team that entered the game with a league-leading 146 goals, and the Leafs continue to own the NHL’s best special teams on the road.

“It’s chemistry, guys really know where each other are playing on special teams . . . it’s been pretty cool for us,” said William Nylander, who scored the game’s opening goal.

James van Riemsdyk, Connor Brown and Connor Carrick also scored for the Leafs, who came out of a five-day break looking like they hadn’t missed a beat from a pre-break stretch where they went 6-1-1.

Mitch Marner picked up a pair of assists and now leads the Leafs and all NHL rookies with 24 helpers.

Toronto also improved to 7-0-1 in their last eight road games.

“Obviously, we took way too many penalties . . . our penalty kill helped us, our rhythm (was interrupted by the penalties), because we were rolling four lines tonight,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “But it was nice to see Freddie (Andersen) back like he was there.”

The Rangers hit a pair of posts, both on their power play, but couldn’t solve Andersen. They lost to Toronto for the first time in the last five games between the two clubs.

Babcock said Curtis McElhinney, picked up off waivers from Columbus earlier this week, will get the start against Ottawa Saturday night.

Nylander got things rolling for the Leafs. Lundqvist, who made several tremendous saves on a wild series of chances seconds before the goal, was a teammate of Nylander’s father, Michael, with the 2005-07 Rangers, and fired balls at the Leafs rookie when he was a 9-year-old.

Nylander made the most of his chance with the roles reversed, scoring in the fifth minute. But, more importantly for Nylander, he scored at even strength. Five of his first eight goals this season had come on the power play.

“He was good,” Babcock said of Nylander. “He was on the puck and the more tenacious he is on the puck, the more he’s going to get it. That’s what the focus is for skilled players, go to the puck and get it more.”