Leafs visit Rangers aiming to sweep home-and-home set

The Toronto Maple Leafs will aim for a sweep of a home-and- home series with the New York Rangers when they Original Six rivals complete the set Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

The Maple Leafs notched a 4-3 regulation win in Monday's opener in Toronto, giving the club victories in two straight and five of their last six trips to the ice.

The recent stretch has strengthened Toronto's playoff chances and the club enters Wednesday as the fifth seed in the East, four points ahead of Ottawa and six points in front of the eighth-seeded Rangers.

The Leafs haven't made the postseason since the spring of 2004 and the seven- season playoff drought is the longest of the franchise's storied history.

Toronto led New York 3-1 after 40 minutes of play at Air Canada Centre before Rick Nash and Derek Stepan scored early in the third period to tie the score. However, Phil Kessel's second goal of the game and 12th of the season came 9:39 into the final period and would hold up for the 4-3 win.

Kessel's tiebreaking tally came 39 seconds after Stepan tied the game at 3-3.

"I thought we played pretty well tonight as a line," said Kessel. "We caught a couple of bounces and that always helps. This was a big win for us tonight."

James van Riemsdyk and Ryan O'Byrne also scored for the Maple Leafs, while James Reimer made 31 saves.

Nash lit the lamp twice for the Rangers, giving him 16 goals on the year. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 24 shots for New York, which had gone 3-0-1 in its previous four games.

"I think I need to make some better reads and just get a little faster," said Lundqvist. "I'm not going to lie, you try to work it through here but I felt a little slow tonight."

Lundqvist had allowed two goals or fewer in each of his previous 10 starts and last surrendered three or more tallies in a 3-0 setback to Pittsburgh on March 16.

The Blueshirts enter Wednesday tied with Winnipeg for the eighth and final playoff seed in the East, but the Rangers have two games in hand over the Jets. The Rangers are also trailing the idle New York Islanders by two points for the seventh-seed in the East. The Blueshirts also have a game in hand over the Isles, who defeated Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The Rangers had won three straight in this series before dropping Monday's decision in Toronto. New York still has six wins over the last nine meetings, but the Leafs have claimed three of the last five encounters in Manhattan.

Toronto will be without forward Joffrey Lupul for a third straight game tonight after he suffered an upper body injury in last Thursday's loss in Philadelphia. Despite playing in just 10 games during an injury-plagued season, Lupul still is 10th on the Leafs in points with 14 (8 goals, 6 assists).