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Gaborik?s hat trick leads Rangers past Oilers

by Dave Lozo

NEW YORK -- Before Marian Gaborik returned to the New York Rangers lineup, coach John Tortorella said he would play with Erik Christensen and Alex Frolov, two forwards who were struggling mightily, in an effort to get them going.

In Gaborik's second game back from a shoulder injury, the move paid off like a winning lottery ticket.

Gaborik scored his first three goals of the season, Frolov had two goals and two assists and Christensen had three assists as the Rangers crushed the Edmonton Oilers 8-2 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.

The trio combined for 11 points in the win, but Gaborik doesn't feel he should get all the credit for big games from Frolov and Christensen.

"It's not just me, but I think we're clicking together," said Gaborik after recording his 11th career hat trick and second as a Ranger. "Hopefully this can give us confidence and give us a boost. I think we were good tonight. We looked for each other, we were cycling, and hopefully we can build on this."

Frolov entered Sunday's game with just 2 goals and 4 assists, but some sloppy play by the Oilers and some additional space created by Gaborik's presence led to his best game as a Ranger.

"He's a great player and it's always enjoyable and he's creative and really good on the puck," Frolov said of Gaborik. "Something can always happen offensively. I think we played very good as a line."

"You hope it gives him some confidence," Tortorella said of Frolov. "You hope he scores in bunches now. I thought Erik made some good plays. We are trying to get that line in a situation where there is some chemistry."

There was a point early in the second period when it looked like the Rangers (9-7-1) were going to fall into a trap against the Oilers (4-9-3) with a road game against the Pittsburgh Penguins looming Monday. Ryan Jones and Shawn Horcoff scored 28 seconds apart to give the Oilers a 2-1 lead.

But less than 5 minutes later, Gaborik scored his second of the game and Brian Boyle added his eighth of the season 25 seconds after that to put the Rangers ahead for good and start the blowout.

Artem Anisimov scored his sixth of the season with 6:43 left in the period and Frolov scored with 4.8 seconds remaining to the put the Rangers up 5-2.

"I liked our start," Tortorella said. "I was very concerned about how we were going to approach this. Sometimes you take a step backward in these types of trap games. That is no disrespect to Edmonton. I thought we handled ourselves well as far as preparing and just playing the way we should at the beginning of the game."

The Rangers took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission after allowing just four shots on goaltender Martin Biron, who was making his second straight start in place of an ill Henrik Lundqvist. He made 19 saves to pick up his third victory in five starts this season.

Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin allowed all eight goals and made just 23 saves. But coach Tom Renney, who was hoping for a different outcome in his return to MSG after coaching the Rangers from 2003-09, placed the blame on the play in front of Khabibulin.

"I have concerns about what we're doing in front of him," Renney said. "I think Khabibulin is a world-class goaltender. His teammates have to remember that and have to do a better job limiting the scoring chances against him."

The game turned ugly with the Rangers up 5-2 midway through the third period.

Rangers forward Sean Avery dropped the Oilers' Colin Fraser with a clean hit along the boards. Ladislav Smid came to the aid of Fraser and asked Avery to fight. After both players dropped the gloves, Avery floored Smid with a right hand.

While Avery was being escorted to the tunnel between the benches that leads to the locker room, Fraser and teammate Theo Peckham went after Avery, setting off a melee that included 84 penalty minutes, seven fighting majors and game misconducts for the Oilers' Zack Stortini and Peckham and the Rangers' Boyle.

Avery wasn't available for comment after the game, but Peckham and Fraser called Avery's shot on Smid a sucker punch.

"I just watched my teammate ask a guy to fight," Peckham said. "Avery said 'No, no next shift.' And as soon as Smider turned around, he sucker punched him. He skated by our bench laughing. I definitely made a mistake and went a little wonky, but we're family and sometimes you have to make a stand for yourself."

"It was a sucker punch," Fraser said. "I think he had his chance, fair and square, 1-on-1 with (Smid). I could hear (Smid) with my own ears. 'Let's go, let's go.' Hey, if you don't want to fight, that's fine. You don't have to fight. But you can't punch the guy after you've already said no."

After things settled down, the Rangers scored three goals in 3:08 to finish the demolition. It's the first time all season that the Rangers have won two straight games at home.

"I have been in games like that when things get crazy," Biron said. "It's not easy for Edmonton. We responded back. We picked it up for our teammates. We rode the adrenaline. The crowd was great and we played great hockey."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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