NEW YORK -- Very rarely can a talent like Marian Gaborik have his offensive abilities compared to those of defenseman Jeff Woywitka, but both came up with timely, rare goals that gave the Rangers a victory on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
Woywitka scored his ninth goal in 257 career games – just his third in his last 110 -- and Gaborik scored his third career shootout goal as the Rangers emerged with a 2-1 victory against the Anaheim Ducks, who have lost seven of their last eight games.
Gaborik entered the game just 2-for-19 in his career in the shootout and wasn't used against the Philadelphia Flyers on the final day of the regular season in 2010, drawing the ire of fans. Olli Jokinen was stopped, and the Rangers lost that shootout and missed the playoffs.
On Thursday, Gaborik used a double deke to his backhand that beat Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller and improved the Rangers (5-3-3) to 2-0-1 in their last three games. A big reason why Gaborik was given a chance in the shootout was a groin injury to Wojtek Wolski, who excels in the shootout but went down with the strain in the second period.
"I'm happy I got a chance to go," said Gaborik, who with 7 shots was the Rangers' best offensive player during the first 65 minutes. "I had my move before I went. I think it was about time. I haven't gone for quite a few games. I'm happy I got a chance and I'm happy I scored."
Rangers coach John Tortorella was well aware of Gaborik's struggles in the shootout -- "2-for-19," he quipped before a reporter could finish the question, but said he didn't care about that number because of what he has seen from Gaborik this season.
"He's been our best player," Tortorella said. "He's ready to take the next step. I'm glad for him. I hope it helps him, because he's been our most consistent player offensively and I'm glad for him it worked out."
Woywitka, however, couldn't have timed his breakout performance with the Rangers more perfectly.
Prior to the start of the game, there were reports that the Rangers signed defenseman Anton Stralman to a one-year contract. With No. 1 defenseman Marc Staal (concussion) out indefinitely and the Rangers carrying just six defensemen, they needed some depth along the blue line. Based strictly on ice time, Woywitka appears to be the one whose job is most threatened by the move.
Woywitka said he had heard about the move before the game but understood why the Rangers would want to add another defenseman.
"It's part of the business," said Woywitka, who after the game donned the black hat that signifies he was the Rangers' best player against the Ducks. "We only have six defensemen here right now. You always need guys for injuries. It's going to be good to have him here. We'll all be battling for ice time."
Woywitka got a little help on his goal that opened the scoring with 2:28 remaining in the first period. His hard, low shot from about 50 feet away deflected off Ducks forward Andrew Gordon on the way to Hiller, who couldn't squeeze his pads in time to prevent the goal.
Tortorella spoke highly of Woywitka, but focused on everything except the goal.
"We've done a lot of things as far as rushed coverage, 3-on-2s, 2-on-1s, a number of situations," Tortorella said of Woywitka, who is still learning the system after he was claimed off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 6. "He can pass the puck. He can get you out of our end zone. He's a guy that everybody likes in that room. He's a really good teammate and I think he's going to improve."
The Rangers stifled the Ducks (5-5-3) for nearly two periods, but Bobby Ryan’s goal late in the second started the tide turning.
Some neat passing in the neutral zone by linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry sprung Ryan into the Rangers zone. From just above the right circle, Ryan snapped a shot that beat goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to his blocker side to tie the game at 1-1 with 1:42 left.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle praised the play of Hiller, who made 24 saves and shut down the Rangers after that Woywitka’s early goal.
"He made some real big stops in the game," Carlyle said. "I thought in the first period he kept us alive and only gave up the one goal, then we got our game going in the second and third. I thought it left us in overtime. We were turning the puck over and gave them far too many chances in overtime, and he was called upon to make some big stops."
Lundqvist was slightly better, bouncing back well after suffering two consecutive poor starts against the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs in which he allowed four goals each. He made 27 saves against the Ducks after watching from the bench in the Rangers' last game against the Sharks.
The shootout is also something Lundqvist takes extremely seriously.
"I get frustrated and take it personal," Lundqvist said. "You face really skilled guys and if you're not on top of your game in the shootout, you're going to give up one and sometimes that's enough. You have to be perfect and I haven't been this year (1-2), but it feels good to finally get a win."
It was sweet revenge for Lundqvist, who lost in a shootout to the Ducks during their matchup in Stockholm during the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere. Ryan beat him for the winning goal then, but Lundqvist made the save on Ryan’s – and the Ducks – final chance Thursday.
"We found a way," Tortorella said. "We found a way to win it in the shootout and get two points.”