NEW YORK — Curtis McElhinney is getting more comfortable as his career progresses, and it’s been showing on the ice.
The veteran backup stopped 25 shots for his second shutout of the season and seventh of his career as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the New York Rangers 4-0 on Thursday night.
“I just feel like I’m getting better and better,” said the 34-year-old McElhinney, who is in his second season with Toronto after spending the previous four with Columbus. “I feel certainly more comfortable about my game than where I did five years ago.”
McElhinney is now 5-4-0 in nine starts this season and lowered his goals-against average to 2.25 — the lowest of his career in a season while making more than one start.
James van Riemsdyk, Patrick Marleau, Zach Hyman and Justin Holl scored for the Maple Leafs in their second straight shutout and fourth straight win. Toronto also completed a sweep of the three-game season series with the Rangers.
It came one night after Frederik Andersen had 25 saves in a 5-0 win at home against the Islanders, giving Toronto back-to-back shutouts for the second time this season. The Maple Leafs extended their shutout streak to 142 minutes, 17 seconds since Dallas’ Tyler Seguin scored late in the second period of Toronto’s 4-1 win last Thursday.
“We did a great job in front of the net,” McElhinney said. “The biggest takeaway from the game tonight and even the last one was smart decisions with the puck at the blue line.”
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock likes how his team has played lately, improving to 7-2-3 in their last 12 and sitting three points behind second-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.
“We think we’re getting better,” he said. “We think we have a chance to be quite a bit better so we’re just a work in progress. … We’re deeper than we’ve been, we have four lines.”
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots. Ondrej Pavelec came on and stopped all 19 shots he faced. New York, shut out for just the second time this season, has lost eight of its last 12.
The Rangers were playing for the first time since winning at San Jose last Thursday in their last game before the All-Star break, but coach Alain Vigneault didn’t want to use the layoff as an excuse.
“We had two really good practices prior to this, so we should have been better than this,” he said.
McElhinney had two nice saves on Rick Nash about six minutes into the third, first on a shot from the right circle and then a tip attempt in close six seconds later. McElhinney also denied Jimmy Vesey in front midway through the period.
Toronto built a 2-0 lead in the first period and then quickly adding to it in the second.
Marleau scored 52 seconds into the middle period off a rebound of a shot by Nazem Kadri for his 17th.
Hyman took a pass from William Nylander, skated in on Lundqvist and went forehand to backhand before putting it in from the left side for his 10th at 3:05 to make it 4-0 and chase Lundqvist.
Holl got Toronto on the board 8:42 into the game as his shot from the right side beyond the faceoff circle beat Lundqvist, who was being screened by Hyman, and rang off the left post and in. It was the defenseman’s second career goal — and second in two nights after being called up from Toronto of the AHL for his NHL debut Wednesday.
The Maple Leafs made it 2-0 when van Riemsdyk put a backhand past Lundqvist for his 20th with 4:37 left.
NOTES: Toronto also had consecutive shutouts at New Jersey on Nov. 18 and against Montreal on Nov. 18. … The Maple Leafs were without D Ron Hainsey (illness) for the second straight game. LW Matt Martin was a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game. … Rangers F Chris Kreider missed his 14th straight game due to a blood clot in his right arm and ensuing rib surgery to alleviate it. D Kevin Shattenkirk is also out while recovering from knee surgery. … New York F Pavel Buchnevich left the game after a collision with Toronto’s Jake Gardiner about halfway through the second period and did not return.
Maple Leafs: At Boston on Saturday night to close a two-game trip before a five-game homestand.
Rangers: At Nashville on Saturday night to open a two-game trip.
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