Marian Gaborik enjoying bounce-back season

Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers celebrates

Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers celebrates his overtime goal against the New York Islanders. (March 11, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

During his exit interview last April, coach John Tortorella could sense Marian Gaborik's disappointment. "He was not happy with his year," Tortorella said. "He was not happy with people questioning him."

In an injury-plagued 2010-11, Gaborik, who had scored at least 40 goals twice and at least 30 six times, skated in 62 games and scored 22 goals.

The turnaround was noticeable in September. "From Day 1 of camp, he's been there,'' Tortorella said. "He has not had any really bad games where you can't find him, and that's both offensively and defensively."

The result: Gaborik is 39-34-73 in 78 games and plus-17, the second-highest among the top 10 scorers in the league.

"Everybody has to buy into a system, including myself," Gaborik said Saturday. "It's not just all about goals, but to try to play an all-around game, to play away from the puck . . . It's more subconscious. At times you have to focus on playing defense first, and offense comes off it."

Skating with center Brad Richards and speedy rookie Carl Hagelin has helped, especially in the last month or so, but Tortorella said: "He's a pro. He's been a high-quality player in this league, and sometimes they tend to be a bit high-maintenance. He's not high-maintenance. It's been positive. I've kicked him along the way, he understands why, and he just continues to try to improve as a player . . . I think he's grown mentally. After the scrutiny last year, he deserves a lot of credit."

 

Down the stretchThe Rangers close the regular season, as they did last year, with four games in April.

Last year, in winning three of the four to make the playoffs, they scored 12 goals. But only five were from players currently in uniform: Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan. Seven goals came from players no longer with the club or injured: Vinny Prospal 3 (Columbus), Wojtek Wolski 1 (Florida), Chris Drury 1 (bought out), Bryan McCabe 1 (unsigned) and Michael Sauer 1 (injured).

 

Heard and seen . . .

Playoff schedules aren't set, but Thursday, April 12, and Saturday, April 14, are likely dates for Games 1 and 2 of the first round at the Garden. The Knicks play on the 13th . . . Of the potential first-round opponents -- Ottawa, Buffalo, Washington and Florida -- the Rangers were 3-1 against the Sabres and Panthers and 1-2-1 against the Senators. They are 2-1 against the Capitals, whom they host in the season finale Saturday . . . Two playoff-ready T-shirts were sighted at practice. Prust wore a blue one with the message: "Stepan is my wingman." Dubinsky's shirt had the word "Bork" on it, which Prust said was a nickname that Hagelin was called at the University of Michigan.

 

Picture perfectA string of terrific old photos of the Maple Leafs hangs in a corridor in the pressbox in Toronto. Anton Stralman, John Scott and Jeff Woywitka, all healthy scratches one night last weekend, were admiring them like visitors in a museum. They thought one player was Rangers assistant coach Mike Sullivan, and to be fair, the facial resemblance was very close. Someone mentioned that Sullivan was much younger and never played in Toronto, and one staffer set them straight. "That's Tim Horton," he said.

 

And the winner isThe envelope, please . . . The New York Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has voted for team MVP and the annual John Halligan Good Guy Award; the winners will be announced next week. Note: Previous winners Henrik Lundqvist and Ryan Callahan are ineligible for the Halligan, which honors cooperation with the media.

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