In the Rangers' fifth game of the season, their defense finally found its offense, and Marian Gaborik scored twice in a four-goal third period Saturday night to overcome the Maple Leafs, 5-2, at Madison Square Garden.
Trailing 2-1 in the third period because of the stellar play of Leafs goaltender James Reimer, who stopped 37 of 42 shots, the Rangers eventually broke through.
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Marc Staal tied the score after joining the rush with fellow defenseman Michael Del Zotto. After Gaborik lugged the puck down the left side, he slid a short pass to Del Zotto, who found Staal in front at 7:36. It was the first goal by a Rangers blueliner this season and Gaborik's second assist of the game.
That opened the gates. Gaborik's fourth goal of the season, a deflection of Staal's slapper from the left point with the shaft of his stick, came at 12:57. Del Zotto fired a wrister that Brian Boyle tipped in at 17:08. Gaborik's empty-netter, his fourth point of the game, ended any lingering suspense at 18:45.
"Our transition game, I thought, was great, allowing us from the back end to join the rush," Del Zotto said. "It was pretty easy reads for us."
The Rangers (2-3) trailed 2-0 after the first period despite outshooting the Leafs 14-3. But they didn't sag. "We felt we were doing some pretty good things, and we stayed together, kept shooting, kept forechecking," Boyle said. "It was about the closest we've come to what we feel is our identity."
Henrik Lundqvist, who wasn't consistently tested most of the night, stopped a deflection in front with 9:30 left in the third to keep the score tied and preserve the Rangers' momentum. With only 15 saves, he had to go long stretches without seeing a shot after a tough start.
On the Leafs' first shot of the night -- the Rangers already had five -- both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi went to block John Michael-Liles' shot. That left Mikhail Grabovski wide open in front and he scored at 6:25 of the first. Reimer then made a huge save, stopping Rick Nash on a clean breakaway by snagging the shot in his glove, before the Leafs' James Van Riemsdyk upped the lead to 2-0 at 17:15.
But Staal found Nash -- who had seven shots on goal through the first two periods and eight overall -- at full stride at the blue line, and he set up Gaborik, whose in-close shot was blocked by Reimer. But Brad Richards was at the left post to cash in at 5:43 of the second.
The Rangers, who managed only 19 shots on Ilya Bryzgalov in Philadelphia on Thursday, had 25 shots on Reimer in two periods.
"That first goal pumped us up," Gaborik said. "It was our best game of the year so far and we scored two goals from the points. We still have a ways to go, but it's important to build on this."
One drawback: The Rangers came into the game 2-for-18 on the power play and were 0-for-4 despite adding a wrinkle. Defensemen Girardi and Anton Stralman were deployed on the point.
But a win, and the two points in regulation, was worth celebrating.
"I think the day off [Friday] helped to recharge our batteries," Staal said. "I thought we had a lot more jump. We were all over loose pucks and winning races we didn't win last game."