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Gaborik puts team on his shoulders

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Marian Gaborik celebrates his game-winning goal that sank the Islanders at 14:35 of the third period Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum. The goal completed his second hat trick of the season, the 12th of his NHL career, and his third as a Ranger.

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The Rangers’ wildly exciting 6-5 victory over the Islanders on Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum may not have gone exactly to plan for Blueshirts head coach John Tortorella. But considering  that the Rangers had the best player -- by far -- on the ice, the team was able to improvise on its original script in order to secure two important points in the opener of a home-and-home set that concludes Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Marian Gaborik played a monster game for the Rangers, scoring three goals, adding an assist, and firing eight shots on goal while logging more than 20 minutes worth of ice time. He also scored the game-winning goal just 25 seconds after the surging Islanders had tied the game 5-5 late in the third period.

“Hockey is a game about momentum changes,” said Erik Christensen, who scored the game’s first goal and assisted on the game-winner while playing on the same line with Gaborik. “In the end, they were able to bury a few, but we had Gaby.”

With the Islanders having just erased a 5-3 deficit by scoring twice in a span of 1:41, Gaborik made the game’s ultimate defining statement by beating Islanders defenseman James Wisniewski to a rebound of Christensen’s shot and whipping it past goalie Rick DiPietro with 5:25 remaining in the third period to put the Rangers back in front 6-5.

The goal -- Gaborik’s third of the night and eighth in 14 games this season -- gave the Slovak sniper his second hat trick of the season, third as a Ranger, and 12th of his National Hockey League career. It also marked Gaborik’s first game-winning goal of the season, certainly a perfect time for that in such a wild back-and-forth contest Thursday night.

“He was really sharp tonight and he was the difference,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of Gaborik. “He stepped up and scored some big goals for us, which was important for him and important for the team. That was his role last year and I know that he wants that to be his role again, so it’s good to see.”

Rangers forward Ryan Callahan and defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal skate back toward the Blueshirts bench after Callahan scored on Isles goaltender Rick DiPietro at 17:07 of the first period.
Gaborik and Christensen both benefitted from the play of their new linemate, left wing Sean Avery, who turned in a ferocious forechecking effort all night and finished with a season-best three assists, which equaled his single-game career-high. Avery earned the primary assists on Christensen’s goal and Gaborik’s second tally, and the secondary assist on the game-winning score.
“He created a lot of energy and chances with his forechecking, and he got to a lot of pucks in the corners and made nice plays,” Gaborik said of Avery. “I thought it was a good job by the whole line.”

The Rangers skated to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Christensen and Ryan Callahan, but they could not escape the first 20 minutes with a two-goal advantage. A goal by the Isles’ Zenon Konopka off a scramble after Rangers goalie Martin Biron had juggled a rebound with 48.6 seconds left gave the home team some life after the visitors had controlled much of the first-period play.

The Islanders then surged to a 3-2 lead with goals by Matt Moulson at 9:18 of the second period and Rob Schremp 3:12 later. The latter score, off a long slap shot after the Rangers failed to clear the puck out of their own zone, prompted Tortorella to remove Biron -- the former Islander --from the game and replace him with Lundqvist.

Biron allowed three goals on 21 shots, only the second time in nine appearances this season he surrendered more than two goals.

“I thought Marty didn’t look dead-on even on a couple saves he made,” saod Tortorella. “Our team looked lethargic, and I just wanted to switch. So it’s not all on Marty. It was more just trying to change momentum.”

Only 51 seconds after switching goalies, Tortorella saw his team tie the game when Brandon Prust’s deflection of a Marc Staal point-shot deflected off the glove of Isles defenseman Andrew MacDonald and past DiPietro.

Less than three minutes after that, Gaborik collected a giveaway off the stick of Radek Martinek, worked his way around a prone Mark Eaton, and sent a right-wing shot off an Islander in front and into the cage for a power-play goal, and a 4-3 Rangers lead, at 16:24 of the second.

Gaborik restored the visitors’ two-goal advantage 3:31 into the third when he roofed an in-tight shot over DiPietro’s glove after a gorgeous feed from behind the net off the stick of Avery.

Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle celebrate Prust's goal at 13:21 of the second period. The goal pulled the Rangers back into a 3-3 tie and set the stage for the go-ahead goal just over three minutes later.
“I’ve watched Gaby play and I know where he’s going to be because he reads the play so well and finds a way to get open,” said Avery. “That’s the biggest thing, he gets open so you just have to get him the puck. When you play with one of the best scorers in the world, it certainly is a fun thing.”

With Lundqvist strong in goal since replacing Biron, and the Rangers carrying a 5-3 lead in the third period, it seemed as though the visitors were well on their way to victory. However, a Michael Grabner goal at 12:29 and another by Blake Comeau at 14:10 tied the game once more in shocking fashion.

“The game just changed so many times during the 60 minutes,” said Lundqvist, who earned the win by stopping nine of 11 shots in relief of Biron. “Just so many things happened to change the game’s momentum. It was just a weird game to play in. The only thing you have to do is just battle and try and get the bounces.”

The Rangers not only battled and got the bounces, but they had Gaborik on their side -- the best player on the ice Thursday night. And that was more than enough to secure an important road victory heading into Friday’s rematch with the Islanders at The Garden.

“Big players need to come up big at big times, and I thought Gaby did that (Thursday) night,” said Callahan. “We needed some key goals and he was there to put them in. That’s one of the things we need to be successful, for Gaby to be firing on all cylinders like that.”
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