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Rangers pound Leafs in 7-0 win

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- When the New York Rangers needed him most, Marian Gaborik was at his best.

Hours after the Rangers found out they were losing leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky for 3-4 weeks with a stress fracture in his left leg, Gaborik delivered the best offensive performance in the NHL this season. He scored four goals and added an assist as the Rangers walloped the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-0 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

Gaborik was mired in an eight-game goal drought before exploding against the Leafs. He scored twice in the first period and twice in the second period in a masterful performance that the goal-starved Rangers desperately needed.

"It feels good, especially after you get the first one," said Gaborik, who has three hat tricks this season. "It was a big relief to get the monkey off my back and it kept rolling. We talked about getting off to a good start and we did."

The Rangers scored four goals in 4:45 midway through the first period. Gaborik scored his pair around a power-play goal by Brian Boyle, his 16th of the season. Ruslan Fedotenko, who separated his left shoulder in the second period and will miss the next 2-4 weeks, scored his ninth of the season to cap the outburst.

Gaborik's first goal was a thing of beauty. He deked Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavasson, who was without his goal stick, at the side of the net to get him down. Gaborik then stepped around Gustavasson and tucked the puck into the net from behind the goal line to make it 1-0.

"The puck kind of bounced on my stick so I couldn't shoot it," Gaborik said of the splendid move. "I could shoot it, but he was kind of right there. There was not much chance I could score because he was up front, so I tried to go around him."

Boyle redirected a blast by defenseman Marc Staal, who had two assists, to make it 2-0 just 1:50 later. Gaborik scored 36 seconds later to chase Gustavsson, who allowed 3 goals on 11 shots but returned to play the final two periods.

Artem Anisimov had a career-high four assists and Sean Avery had three assists, all of which came on Gaborik's goals. That line combined for 4 goals and 8 assists.

"That line was good," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "Sean made some good plays, Artie made some good plays, Gaby scored some goals and made some plays himself. It wasn't one particular guy."

With all of the injuries the Rangers are facing, a group effort has become even more important.

The Rangers are without six key forwards -- Ryan Callahan, Alex Frolov, Vinny Prospal, Erik Christensen, Dubinsky and now Fedotenko. Frolov is done for the season, Callahan and Christensen aren't expected back until after the All-Star break, and Prospal's status for this season remains cloudy.

But after the Rangers went long stretches without Gaborik and captain Chris Drury earlier this season, adversity caused by injuries is nothing new.

"You know what? It's kind of what happens," Boyle said. "Fortunately for us, guys are playing huge. Guys are stepping up playing great. All these guys keep rolling. We're just trying to keep the momentum, keep rolling."

After Gaborik scored the only goals of the second period, Mats Zuccarello's third of the season was the exclamation point on Henrik Lundqvist's seventh shutout of the season. He's quietly putting together a Vezina-worthy season, as he's now tied for the League lead in shutouts with Vezina front-runner Tim Thomas.

"Mentally and physically, I feel great," said Lundqvist, who is playing fewer games this season thanks to the presence of capable backup Martin Biron. "I can feel a big difference. I feel great. The team is playing really well. As long as I am focusing on my part, we will have a good chance to win. That's exciting for a goalie."

Lundqvist probably needed an energy drink to keep him awake at times Wednesday. He was only really tested twice in the game and made just 22 saves. That sits well with Tortorella.

"We are trying to do the right thing -- reducing some of his load," Tortorella said. "Marty Biron has played well for us. I think in the long run, especially when you get into the grind after the All-Star break, I think it is going to help Hank."

Leafs coach Ron Wilson could've used some help Wednesday.

Toronto had two power-play chances in the first 10 minutes, but barely threatened as they passed the puck around the outside and failed to get any traffic in front of Lundqvist. In the blink of an eye, the Rangers had a 4-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

"Basically, the game was over at 4-0," Wilson said. "We stopped skating. They beat us to every loose puck in our zone. The forwards weren't getting pucks, and our defense wasn't winning any races back to them. You end up chasing your tail and they made us look silly."

Only Colton Orr, Tim Brent and Marcel Mueller weren't minus players for the Leafs. But Orr took two minor penalties that led to power-play goals and was ejected late in the game for a vicious slash on Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger that drew a 5-minute major.

Gustavsson finished with 19 saves on 25 shots and Jean-Sebastien Giguere allowed 1 goal on 3 shots during the final 6:39 of the first period.

"That's hockey. It happens," said Leafs defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who was on the ice for four goals, three at even strength. "Sometimes it's tough.
You got to be ready to battle. When you make a mistake, you got to regroup. Instead of picking ourselves up, we kind of let down and stopped working."

It was the complete opposite on the other bench. The news of Dubinsky's injury stunned the Rangers locker room -- "My reaction was just, you got to be kidding me," Boyle said -- yet the team that didn't score more than 2 goals in their past 9 games rose to the occasion.

The challenge only gets stiffer, as the Rangers play four games in the next six days.

"I think it is important that we don't see this as an excuse for not winning or getting points," Lundqvist said. "Yeah, we have guys out, but at the same time it is an opportunity for other guys to step up. We responded when we needed to and now we need to keep it going. It is a big week for us."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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