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Gaborik's hat trick helps Rangers beat Avalanche; trade imminent?

The Rangers' Marian Gaborik celebrates after scoring the

The Rangers' Marian Gaborik celebrates after scoring the first of his three goals against Colorado. (January 31, 2010) Credit: AP

DENVER - Marian Gaborik's hat trick, rookie goalie Chad Johnson's first NHL win and a 3-1 win by the Rangers over the Colorado Avalanche that ended a five-game losing streak were overshadowed in the postgame scene at Pepsi Center last night.

In search of scoring, the front office reportedly was negotiating a deal with the Calgary Flames to acquire Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins. It could be announced Monday, although the Flames might be asking for more.

Jokinen, 31, is a 6-3 center from Finland who scored 111 goals from 2005-2008 with Florida and is 11-24-35 in 55 games for Calgary this season. He also scored 21 goals for Phoenix in 2008-09. He has a salary-cap hit of $5.25 million in the last year of his deal. Kotalik, who was sent to New York from Phoenix, has two more years left at $3 million per.

Prust, 25, is a left wing with 98 penalty minutes and a cap hit of $500,000. He has a goal and four assists in 42 games, but his role is enforcer. He has the second-most fighting majors in the league this season with 18, three fewer than Tampa Bay's Zenon Konopka.

Higgins, the Smithtown product who was acquired in the Scott Gomez trade with Montreal last summer, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Kotalik, 31, who had been a healthy scratch for eight of the previous nine games, had gone public with his displeasure several weeks ago, although both he and his agent denied that they sought a trade or canceled scheduled autograph sessions.

He has eight goals and 14 assists but wound up in coach John Tortorella's doghouse for his poor defensive play. Kotalik has a minus-18 rating.

Higgins had three straight seasons with at least 20 goals for Montreal, but he was injured last season and has been snakebit after coming home to the New York area. He has six goals, eight assists and a minus-9 rating.

Meanwhile, Johnson, who was forced to play back-to-backs for the first time in his fledgling NHL career and made 34 saves, and Gaborik, who broke a five-game scoring drought in Phoenix before registering the 10th three-goal game of his career and first as a Ranger, had cause to celebrate.

Johnson, 23, who allowed three first-period goals in the 3-2 loss in Phoenix, was given the game puck by Henrik Lundqvist, who missed a second straight game with a stomach bug.

"They came with a lot of speed and I wanted to be aware of that," Johnson said. "We competed for the full 60 minutes and we were going into the game on a mission to get a win. You want to get the first one to know you can win at this level. It's such a relief."

Gaborik's goals - he has 33 this season - marked his first hat trick since he scored five against the Rangers in Minnesota on Dec. 2, 2007. He scored in each period, and the final two goals came from passes from Vinny Prospal, one a backhand, no-look feed from behind Craig Anderson's net at 4:57 of the second period that Gaborik said was a set play.

"We played a good two periods in Phoenix and we talked about carrying it over. When you get the first goal, you feel more comfortable. It's a matter of confidence," said Gaborik, who "got into a zone. It's a boost of energy for me and the entire team."

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