The Rangers had gone 0-5-1 on the road. They stood on their blue line during pregame ceremonies when this year's Hall inductees -- former Rangers captain Messier, Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens and Jim Gregory -- walked along a carpet to center ice.
"It was a big game and a big night," Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. "Mess is here and we wanted to go out and have a proud showing for the New York Rangers."
Toronto's Nik Antropov took the first shootout shot against goalie Steve Valiquette, in his debut this season, and was stopped. Shanahan was the first New York shooter and beat Vesa Toskala high on the glove side.
Leafs captain Mats Sundin shot high and wide before Hossa got his chance. He deked twice and buried the puck behind Toskala.
Valiquette got his first start after Henrik Lundqvist played every minute of the Rangers' first 16 games.
"For Steve Valiquette to get a win, in a shootout, in his hometown was great," said Shanahan, also from Toronto.
With all the pressure and his parents in attendance, Valiquette performed as well as could be expected.
"I was as calm as I could be under the circumstances -- with all the pregame stuff and the magnitude of the game," Valiquette said.
Toskala was good, too, through 65 minutes, but has never won a shootout.
"That's the one thing I want to get better at, that's for sure," he said. "Those are 50-50-chance shots.
"Still, those are big points."
Sean Avery set up Shanahan for a goal and scored one himself for the Rangers during the same shift in the second period. That came after Avery exchanged words and shoves with Toronto agitator Darcy Tucker during pregame warmups.
Alexei Ponikarovsky scored both of Toronto's goals in regulation in front of a season-high Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,530.
"We had momentum and were pumped up and cheering for each other," Ponikarovsky said of his team's rally. "I was sure we were going to score another one."
It wasn't to be.
The Leafs won 3-0 in Buffalo on Friday and coming back from a two-goal deficit to get another point Saturday left them feeling optimistic about the upcoming stretch.
"That was a good comeback," Toskala said. "Overall, it was a pretty good weekend with three points out of four.
"I guess we have to be happy with that."
There was a staredown involving all players on the ice at the boards between the benches after Avery and Tucker yapped during warmups. They were chirping at each other again in the 12th minute, and Tucker dropped his gloves. Avery chose not to fight and both were sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct. They were back on the ice 8 seconds before they finally did fight.
"They're pot-stirrers," Shanahan said. "They're very rare -- guys that are talented and can agitate.
"They play with big hearts. They had their run-ins last year, too. They're the same player. Sean's a younger version of Darcy."
The Rangers' goals came 42 seconds apart from the line of Shanahan, Avery and Scott Gomez early in the second period.
Gomez won a faceoff in Toronto's end and passed to Avery, who took the puck behind the Toronto net. A backhand pass sent the puck to Shanahan at the front of the crease for a quick shot past Toskala at 1:43.
Avery dodged Pavel Kubina to get to a rebound of another shot by Shanahan and scored at 2:25.
Ponikarovsky scored twice in two minutes to tie it.
He ripped a shot from the right circle into the top short-side corner at 16:54. Ponikarovsky then slammed a rebound past a kneeling Valiquette at 18:54. Sundin's assist gave him 1,267 points, tying him with Jean Ratelle for 32nd place on the NHL career list.
If not for Valiquette, the Rangers wouldn't have escaped with two points. They were shaky in the third period when Toronto outshot them 10-6.
"We just haven't played that well as a group on the road this season," captain Jaromir Jagr said.
Toronto had a 34-27 shots edge. ... New York entered with a league-best 1.67 goals-against average, while Toronto's 3.53 GAA was 29th in the 30-team league. ... Pregame ceremonies were held to introduce Mark Messier, Al MacInnis, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens and Jim Gregory, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night.