Hats covered the ice, fans stood on their feet and the struggling Marian Gaborik was all smiles as the New York Rangers pummeled the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-0 last night at Madison Square Garden.
Why was Gaborik smiling?
Because the night belonged to him.
In the past few home games Gaborik has heard nothing but boos from the Garden faithful due to his failure to score and live up to his $7.5 million contract. Coach John Tortorella, so fed up with begging Gaborik to pick up the Rangers’ offensive slack, even benched the star winger for an eight-minute stint in the second period and for seven minutes in the third during the Rangers 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday.
But last night that all changed and the Marian Gaborik Blueshirts’ fans have adored since 2009 took to the ice. Maneuvering swiftly past the defense and outsmarting his opponents Gaborik finally ended his eight-game scoreless drought by tallying four goals and one assist.
“It was a big relief to get the first one, to get the monkey off my back, and then it just was rolling,” Gaborik said. “It’s nice to get four goals, definitely a good feeling. Now hopefully I can be more consistent and go from there.”
Gaborik became the first NHL player to score four goals in a game this season.
It was a much needed win for the Rangers who lost their past two games and found out today that the team’s top goal scorer Brandon Dubinsky (17 goals) will be sidelined for three to four weeks due to a stress fracture on his left fibula.
An injury to one of the team’s top players is something the Rangers have gotten used to this season as the team has not had all of their top players on the ice for a game this season. But the team has adjusted accordingly.
“It’s a big hole, and I’m not going to shy away from that. He’s a huge piece here. He’s a huge penalty killer for us. He’s our leading scorer,” said Tortorella of Dubinsky. “He adds jam on our forecheck. He has done everything, and has deserved the credit for how well he’s played this year while also becoming a big leader for us.”
When top players get injured, other players step up and tonight Gaborik stepped up in a big way.
“I feel more responsibility, and it’s a big challenge for myself, and for everyone here in this room,” said Gaborik. “A lot of guys need to step up, including myself. It happened tonight, but we have to keep going. We’ve had a lot of injuries this year, but we can’t make excuses.”
Putting the Rangers on the board mid-way through the first period, Gaborik faked out Leafs’ goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who was without a stick, and put the puck between the pipes.
After Gaborik’s first goal it was evident that the Maple Leafs didn’t stand a chance. The Blueshirts must have honed the explosive energy the crowd emitted after Gaborik scored because from that moment on the Rangers’ offense became unstoppable. Just 1:50 after Gaborik’s goal, Brian Boyle made it 2-0 scoring on a power play.
Gaborik’s second goal of the game at 13:21 in the first made Leafs’ head coach Ron Wilson make a goaltender change. The decision to pull Gustavsson was not an easy one. Wilson was torn between submitting Gustavsson to any more torture and putting Jean-Sebastien Giguere in because he planned on sitting Giguere the entire game in order to save him for Thursday night’s game back in Toronto.
But pulling Gustavsson didn’t bring any relief to the Leafs as they found themselves in a four-goal deficit just 2:19 after Giguere came into the game when Ruslan Fedotenko wristed a shot between the goaltender’s legs.
With the Rangers dominating the first period, Wilson decided to let Gustavsson rest for the remainder of the first period and put him back in for the final two.
Just like most of the game, the second period was all about Gaborik as he notched two more goals and increased the Rangers’ lead to six. Newbie Mats Zuccarello scored the Rangers’ seventh goal 53 seconds into the third period.
Although, Gaborik was the obvious star on the night, the Rangers had several players with multi-point games. Artem Anisimov established a career single-game high tallying four points on the night by assisting on each of Gaborik’s four goals.
“It’s so fun to play like this, and it’s so much more fun when the team wins a big game like this,” said Anisimov. “I know Gaby is a great player, so I tried to get him the puck as much as I can. He makes it easy for us.”
Sean Avery, the third member of the Gaborik- Anisimov line, also had a big night recording three points (for his assists on three of Gaborik’s goals).
Besides the Rangers’ explosive offense, a portion of the team’s victory was a result of the penalty kill and Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist didn’t see much action as he only had to stop 22 shots, but stop them he did. It was his 31st career shutout and his seventh of the season.
The Rangers will have to continue to stay hot as they have a grueling upcoming schedule playing four games in the next six days.
Fedotenko left the game with a second degree AC sprain. His is expected to miss 2-4 weeks.