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Dubinsky doing his best to reclaim difficult season

by Dave Lozo
Brandon Dubinsky has had a terrible season. There's no way to sugar-coat it.

Coach John Tortorella will tell you just that, and Dubinsky himself has owned up to his career-worst 8-goal, 21-assist output that had his name heavily discussed in trade rumors last month.

But for the first time this season, Dubinsky is showing signs of once again becoming the player who was deemed worthy of a four-year, $16.8 million contract during the summer.

Over the past four games, Dubinsky has 1 goal and 2 assists, including a helper on Ryan Callahan's OT winner against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. Dubinsky has 10 shots over his past four games, which doesn't seem like much, but it's the same amount of shots he had in the nine games that preceded that.

Playing on a line with Callahan and Derek Stepan, Dubinsky has seen added responsibility and added minutes. Dubinsky is averaging about 18:45 of ice time the past three games, and the 19:46 he played against the Red Wings was his most ice time since playing 20:09 against the Phoenix Coyotes on Jan. 10.

"Without a doubt, I've always wanted that responsibility," Dubinsky said. "So it's nice to be getting rewarded and getting that opportunity. I have to make sure I stay consistent and play my best each and every night, or there's just somebody that's going to replace and take those minutes. I just have to try to stay confident and keep going about my business and make sure I stay consistent.


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"It's been a frustrating season, obviously. But when you can see the end in sight and you realize how much this team needs you, and the guys tell you that and the coaching staff tells you that, it gives you a little bit of an energy boost and makes you want to come in and work harder for those guys. Nobody wants to play hard and nobody wants to produce and be a factor more than I do. It's important for me to do that. I think this is a step in the right direction."

The confidence that has been missing from Dubinsky's game this season was on full display during Callahan's overtime winner. Dubinsky rushed the puck across the blue line and attacked Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk of all people before dishing the puck to Michael Del Zotto on the left side. Del Zotto hit Callahan with a pass in the middle, and the Rangers' captain buried a wrist shot for the win.

Callahan said Dubinsky looked like the guy who achieved career highs last season with 24 goals and 30 assists, not the guy who has been glued to the bench at times for poor play and mistakes.

"You can tell he's moving his feet and starting to get some confidence back there," Callahan said. "He's finding guys. When he's hard on those pucks, he's hard to defend. When you're on a line with him and he's playing like that, it's pretty easy to play. You just have to find some open spots, support him. He's going to be a huge part of this team as we head into the playoffs and in the playoffs."

Tortorella has been Dubinsky's harshest critic. Before a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 2, Tortorella said Dubinsky would've been a healthy scratch if not for the fact the Rangers had so many injuries at forward. Dubinsky rode the bench the previous day against the Carolina Hurricanes for the final two periods and played just 5:25 after taking an ill-advised penalty.

Dubinsky scored the tying goal late against Tampa to force OT, but it didn't prove to be the launching point for a turnaround.

Three weeks later, Tortorella feels Dubinsky has been at his best during the Rangers' past three games.

"He makes a big play in overtime," Tortorella said. "The last three, he just seems more fluid as far as shooting the puck and as far as just allowing himself to react and not overthink. That's what we told him -- don't think. I think that's been important for him. It may sound funny, but he can't overthink it. He just has to play his game."

Having the old Dubinsky back for the playoffs is something Tortorella wouldn't mind seeing.

"It'd be a big plus for us, because we've won some games without him this year, because he hasn't played well this year," Tortorella said. "It's not to run him down. He knows that. This is a great opportunity."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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