How bad this one would have been for the Rangers. How awful the feeling if the skills competition just broke in the other direction.
But it didn’t, and the Rangers found a way to win on Monday night at the Garden, pushing past the Maple Leafs in a 2-1 shootout triumph that was very close to falling victim to a terrible call and a worse fate.

“I would have been pretty devastated,” said goalie Cam Talbot, making his second start in row and being just 1:24 away from his third shutout of the season before an inexplicable no-whistle led to Nazem Kadri whacking in a goal to tie it 1-1. “With the game we played tonight, we deserved to win.”

No matter how much the Rangers held the play, no matter how much zone time they had and how little they were giving the Leafs — and how little they were asking of Talbot in nets for the second start in as many nights — they were still so close to being scorned by the system.

The system, on this night going by the name of referee Jean Hebert, settled right behind Talbot and his net as former Devil David Clarkson wrapped around on his backhand and jammed the puck under Talbot’s left pad. There it sat, above the goal line, just waiting for Hebert to blow the whistle — waiting and waiting, and eventually Kadri playing the role of spoiler, knocking it in and creating a fracas as Brian Boyle shattered his stick on the goal post and even the normally mild-mannered Talbot was up in arms.

The play went for a review at the league office in Toronto, and Hebert even had a conversation with Rangers alternate captain Brad Richards about it, but the on-ice call of a goal was upheld.
“In my opinion, that was the wrong call,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “The referee told Brad on the ice that if they didn’t score on the wraparound, that it wasn’t a goal. They didn’t score on the wraparound. Kadri came in through the middle and poked it in. How Toronto saw it differently, I’m not sure. But you just have to play through those things, and we did.”

The Rangers outshot the Leafs 43-26, out-attempted them 66-42, and all the puck-possession stats geeks north of the border can only look at this game in wonderment, explaining to each other throughout this night and many to come that they can’t continue to expect the type of goaltending they got from Jonathan Bernier.