Ailing Gaborik no longer a force for Rangers

The Rangers' Marian Gaborik skates during the second

The Rangers' Marian Gaborik skates during the second period against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden. (Mar. 8, 2010) (Credit: Christopher Pasatieri)

Marian Gaborik has carried the Rangers many times this season. It seems as if the Rangers are carrying Gaborik now, and that can’t bode well for the team’s playoff hopes.

Gaborik had a better game last night than he did in Washington the night before. The Rangers grabbed a point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Sabres; they needed two, but they weren’t getting any until Brandon Dubinsky jammed home a rebound with 1:23 left in the third.

Gaborik wasn’t on that power play. He wasn’t on the ice for those final 83 seconds, either. He got one shift in overtime, and it wasn’t the opening one — Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan were the forward pair to start OT.

The Rangers’ leading scorer has had a messy month, starting when his thigh was accidentally cut by Henrik Lundqvist’s skate in practice on Feb. 9. Gaborik tried to play through it in Pittsburgh a few days later, but couldn’t; he missed the final Rangers game before the break, then went to the Olympics and played every game for Slovakia, though he missed the third period of his country’s semifinal loss to Canada.

Somewhere in there, he suffered a leg injury, compounding the nasty gash. He missed the first two Rangers games out of the break, games in which the Rangers scored eight goals; he came back on Saturday, and the zeros started.

“Obviously, I just have to step up the game, that’s the bottom line,” Gaborik said after last night’s game. “I had some jump.”

John Tortorella had strong words for his star before last night’s game, saying that the 20:08 he played in D.C. were wasted minutes. “He can’t play the way he did [Saturday] night, that’s for sure,” Tortorella said, adding that coach and player would have a chat after warm-ups to make sure Gaborik was ready to go.

After seeing him get four shots on goal in 18:49 and make one terrific defensive play to break up a first-period three-on-two, Tortorella said his relationship with Gaborik is the same as it’s always been.

“We’re very honest with one another,” Tortorella said. “One thing about Gabby: He gets it. He knows he didn’t play well against Washington. I wanted to make sure he was mentally ready for the game.”

The Rangers — who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday — have 16 games left to try and make the top eight in the East. They need Gaborik at his usual effectiveness to do that, in addition to having some other forwards producing.

They’ve gotten other guys — notably Drury, Callahan and Dubinsky, who formed the Rangers’ top line last night — to get going. Gaborik, though, hasn’t joined the party, and he’s clearly not close to 100 percent.

Gaborik toughing it out to play is what a star should do. But when he’s a floater, as he was Saturday, he’s doing more harm than good, especially because these Rangers look to him to get the offense going in stalemate games like Sunday night’s.

“Everybody has to contribute out there,” he said. “We all have to step up our games. We have to find a way to get some more goals.”
That hasn’t been difficult for Gaborik, who had 35 goals in his first 57 games, before any other Ranger had 15.

It’s getting tougher for the Rangers’ star, at just the wrong time.

He can’t carry the Rangers now, not on one leg. Their best hope is to be a better team and not wait to hitch a ride on No. 10’s back.

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