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Rangers outlast Coyotes in shootout

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- It seems like no matter the adversity, the New York Rangers are finding a way to rise to the occasion.

Marian Gaborik converted a do-or-die attempt in the shootout, setting the stage for Derek Stepan to score the deciding goal in the sixth round to give the Rangers a 2-1 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The League-leading Rangers improved to 27-9-4 with their fifth straight victory and 10th win in their last 11 games.

Gaborik's shootout goal came after he failed to a score on a penalty shot with 1:50 remaining in overtime. He was denied on a beautiful sprawling save by Mike Smith, who made 31 saves in a brilliant losing effort for the Coyotes.

The Rangers were so close to defeat that even goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had his eye on the locker room after he allowed Radim Vrbata's shootout goal and before Gaborik took his chance.

"I was about to skate off the ice," Lundqvist said. "The percentage to score when you have to score is not very good. He made a great move. That's a Gabby move. That's how he scores so many goals during games -- coming down really fast and firing a quick shot. I think we deserved this."

On his penalty shot attempt, Gaborik attempted to skate around Smith on his forehand. The goaltender found a way to stay with Gaborik and make the athletic save with the paddle of his stick.

In the shootout, Gaborik utilized his quickness instead, but said the penalty-shot attempt had no bearing on his second attempt with the game in the balance.

"I just made up my mind to go fast and try to disrupt his positioning by stopping and taking a quick shot," Gaborik said. "It worked out perfect."

Gaborik entered the season 2-for-19 in the shootout, but is 2-for-3 this season. Many won't soon forget the fact he didn't take a shootout attempt two seasons ago when the Rangers needed to beat the Flyers in their final game of the year in order to make the playoffs. Instead, Olli Jokinen took the deciding shot and failed to score, allowing the Flyers to clinch the East's final playoff spot and make a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

"It was a great move on the penalty shot, but Smith just made a great save," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "He's a veteran guy, but that part of his game (shootouts) can still be better. That's a part of his game we're hoping continues to be consistent. I think that (improving in the shootout) comes with him accepting more responsibility. That's him becoming a better player."

Stepan went 0-for-5 in shootout attempts as a rookie last season. In his first attempt of 2011-12, he chose to shoot for the top right corner instead of making a move, and it gave the Rangers the extra point.

"It wasn't anything special," Stepan said. "It does feel pretty good. Last year, I think I was just a little nervous going into shootouts.  This year, I was a little more comfortable. I just kept it simple."

With six rounds of a shootout and an overtime penalty shot, it more than made up for a scoreless first two periods that saw Smith steal the show.

The 6-foot-4, 218-pounder played as big as he appears in the net during the first period. He made two tough saves on fourth-line center John Mitchell, including one on a mini-breakaway. He also made two successive point-blank stops with his left pad on Brian Boyle and another sharp save at the left post on Brandon Prust.

Smith stopped the first 21 shots he faced as he and Lundqvist engaged in a scoreless duel for two-plus periods.

"I thought Mike Smith was fantastic and gave us a chance to win," said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, whose team fell to 2-4-3 in its last nine games. "It's just too bad we couldn't get two points. It was a hard-fought point. You'd certainly like to have two."

It looked like the Coyotes wouldn't get any when Ruslan Fedotenko scored the game's first goal 2:27 into the third period to put the Rangers ahead 1-0. He found a loose puck in the slot and whipped a wrist shot through heavy traffic as he faded from the net for his sixth goal of the season. Boyle provided the screen as the puck sailed past the catching glove of Smith.

"It snuck by everybody," Fedotenko said. "It was lucky, but it was a good effort by the whole line to create chances."

Before the game, Tortorella said he wanted to see more out of his third line of Boyle, Fedotenko and Carl Hagelin. The trio combined for seven shots and the only Rangers' goal.

"We had a lot of fun tonight just going north. That was my mindset before the game -- just go north," said Boyle, who has just 2 goals this season after scoring 21 last season. "It hasn't been, offensively, the greatest year so far for me. I think if we're physical and we're in on the forecheck, things are going to happen eventually. It's nice to contribute offensively."

"Feds has been playing well, but hasn't been rewarded," Tortorella said. "Boyle put up a few chances tonight, but still isn't rewarded. I thought it was one of our better lines."

The Coyotes put the celebration on hold when Vrbata scored his 20th goal of the season with 8:23 left in regulation. He wired a one-timer from the right circle that beat Lundqvist, who only had to make 17 saves to pick up his seventh straight win.

The Rangers improved to 9-2-4 in one-goal games, the sixth-best mark in the League.

"We've played so many of them," Lundqvist said. "Obviously you get more comfortable when you've been in the same situation so many times. Even going into the third, we knew what to do because we've been in the situation before. Being able to win those games is so important to your confidence."

Tortorella was asked why his team doesn't get rattled when things go wrong or when games get tight.

He didn't have a definitive answer, but said the team's closeness has been a big factor.

"I just think it starts with the locker room," Tortorella said. "It's a tight group, and I just think they believe they can get things done. We're going to lose some games, but I think they'll play the right way."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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