NEW YORK -- John Tortorella didn't pull any punches when he came to his winless, pointless team in the days leading up to a battle with the undefeated Boston Bruins.
The New York Rangers, a Stanley Cup favorite in the eyes of many, were lacking mental toughness, their coach said. The resiliency that had grown into a hallmark of a once-downtrodden franchise was absent in a pair of losses to the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins to open the season.
On Wednesday, Marian Gaborik's third goal of the night – 27 seconds into overtime – gave the Rangers a stirring 4-3 victory against the previously unbeaten Bruins, but the brilliant breakaway tally was the product of his team's resolve in the face of adversity.
Before Gaborik dashed down the ice as if he were propelled by a rocket and used an incredible display of hand-eye coordination to tap home the winner after Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask made the initial save, the Rangers had an opportunity to fold after a late lead was erased by Nathan Horton's first goal since suffering a concussion 367 days ago.
The Rangers also could have deflated when their early 2-0 lead was erased by second-period goals by Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic, but Taylor Pyatt responded with a goal on the Rangers' next shift to restore the lead.
When hardship struck the Rangers, for the first time this season, they answered every time.
For Tortorella, how the Rangers won meant more to him than the win itself.
"I think it's more important, if you can believe that," Tortorella said. "We needed to win. I just thought we handled some of their surges -- maybe not handled their surges, but we didn't break. We didn't give, where I thought the past couple games, we were nowhere to be found as far as stepping back up, someone trying to make a big play, just trying to grab momentum back on our side. I don't think we were anywhere to be found the past two games.
"Tonight, I thought we made some steps there."
When a team is a Stanley Cup favorite like the Rangers are in most people's minds this season, an 0-3-0 start could be a reflection of a team's inability to handle those expectations. In a 82-game season, an 0-3-0 hole isn't anywhere close to the end of the world, but in a 48-game season, a stumble out of the blocks is more magnified.
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal, who played his best game of the early season with an assist and three blocked shots in 23:22 of ice time, said an 0-3 start wouldn't have sounded the alarms because they were already going off before Wednesday's game.
"We were concerned with an 0-2 start," Staal said. "We didn't like the way we were playing. I think we were a lot better tonight, so if we had lost the game, we would've felt better about our effort anyways. We're glad we got the win though, so now we have to take that momentum into Philly [on Thursday night]."
Tortorella wanted to get a spark Wednesday by uniting his three most-talented offensive players on one line – Gaborik, Brad Richards and Nash. It took 4:36 for the move to pay dividends.
The play started with defenseman Michael Del Zotto making a pass from his goal line out to center ice. Richards one-touched the puck to Nash, who sped past a flat-footed Horton in the neutral zone to create a 2-on-1 with Gaborik. Nash fed the puck to Gaborik, who waited for Rask to drop down before roofing a shot that sent the water bottle into the air.
Less than four minutes later, Gaborik scored a more workmanlike goal from the crease. He stashed home the rebound of a Del Zotto shot to put the Rangers ahead 2-0 in what was a dominant opening period.
The Bruins turned the tables from the drop of the puck in the second period. Lucic drew a slashing penalty against Staal 18 seconds after the opening faceoff, which led to the Bruins' first power-play goal of the season. Marchand parked himself at the top of the crease and tipped a point shot from Dougie Hamilton, a 19-year-old defenseman who coach Claude Julien said was "great" in his third NHL game.
Lucic made it 2-2 at 12:24 when he finished a 4-on-2 rush by digging the puck out from Henrik Lundqvist's pads and depositing a backhander into an open net.
"It was good to see us battle back after the start that we had," Lucic said. "They were able to get that two-goal lead, and that's what ended up costing us in the end."
Staring at a collapse and a potential three-game losing streak on the horizon, Pyatt stepped up.
Rangers center Derek Stepan corralled the puck about 50 feet from the net and snapped a wrist shot that Rask stopped. The rebound fell right to Pyatt, who chipped it past Rask to put the Rangers back on top and stem the tide of what had been a Bruins onslaught up until that point.
"Pyatt's goal was a big goal when they made it 2-2, to go out and score again," Richards said. "That could have deflated us as a group but it didn't. It got us into the third with a goal lead. Things happen, they keep pushing, and we responded again in overtime with a great play by Gabby."
The Rangers had a chance to ice the game early in the third period when they had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:13, but the Bruins didn't allow a shot on goal. They continued to press until Horton's shot with 4:23 remaining in regulation tested the Rangers' mettle once again.
After some sustained pressure from the Bruins to start overtime, Gaborik knifed through the defense in the neutral zone and used his speed and hands to give the Rangers their first win of the season when it could've gone the other way for a third straight game.
"They got that goal late, but our plan was to try to stay with it," Gaborik said. "I think we played way better even though they had some stretches in our zone. But I think we played better in this game than the last two games."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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