Marian Gaborik knew that his once high-flying trio had been dormant. “The last few games our line has been quiet,” Gaborik said tonight. “But as the game, went on, we got better.”
With the Rangers and Panthers tied at 2 in overtime at Madison Square Garden, Gaborik, who had just two shots on goal, took a drop pass from Derek Stepan, who had driven through center ice, and let fly. “I was not hesitating this time,” he said. “I just tried to wire it.”
Gaborik’s laser at 3:29 of overtime---his 23rd goal of the season and first point in four games-----beat Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen as the Rangers (25-9-4) rallied to edge Florida 3-2. The game-winner sealed the Rangers’ third win in a row and eighth in the last nine games.
It was a bit of redemption for Gaborik, as the Rangers ended regulation with a 38-21 advantage in shots, but could only score off deflections past Clemmensen. The Slovak sniper had the 300th assist of his career taken away by the official scorer when the second Rangers goal was changed from Brad Richards to Ryan Callahan.
With the win, the Rangers moved to 3-1-0 against Florida and 12-3-2 at home, ending any sense that there would be a post-Winter Classic letdown before facing the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Friday.
Before the game, Rangers coach John Tortorella said he had a “major concern” about his team’s energy level “after a pretty emotional weekend…I hope we’re ready to play.” And except for a eight-minute, mid-first period slump, they were.
“I thought we responded well,” said Callahan, who was credited with a goal that gave the Rangers a short-lived 2-1 lead that went off his shinpad. Callahan and linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Richards also helped hold the Panthers’ No. 1 line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann to just two shots on Martin Biron (8-2-0).
Marcel Goc opened the scoring with a top-shelf wrister at 4:16 of the first before the Rangers got their legs going. The Brandon Prust-Mike Rupp-John Mitchell line created the best opportunities.
But it was defenseman Anton Stralman’s first goal as a Ranger, a shot from the right side that deflected off Ed Jovanovski’s skate and past Clemmensen at 17:44 that tied the game. “It was kind of quiet on the ice and in the stands and he scores and it shook everybody up a little bit,” said Biron. Stralman, who has five assists since being signed as a free agent on Nov. 5, called his soft but accurate shot “a chocolate-chip muffin” and was surprised when it went in.
After a scoreless second, Richards’s shot hit Mike Weaver’s glove, then Callahan at 4:24 of the third while the Panthers were killing a too-many-men on the ice infraction. But just 36 seconds later. Mike Santorelli, off an unimpeded Panthers rush through the neutral zone, beat Biron shortside to knot the game again. “He caught me cheating,” said Biron, who made 19 saves. “If I was in position, it hits me in the shoulder.”
Then Gaborik shouldered the burden.
“A lot of people were talking about me coming here and helping Gabby,” said Richards. “Gabby has had many good seasons with whomever he’s playing with. He’s good enough to help other people and that’s what he’s doing.”
Notes & Quotes
Marc Staal, who played 12:51 in his second game after missing 36 with concussion symptoms, said he would have no problem playing in tonight's back to back in Pittsburgh. Tortorella pointed out however that he was a long was off from normal, mainly because of missing trainign camp....Stepan and Del Zotto each registered their 18th assists on Gaborik's goal...The Rangers were assessed just one penalty, a boarding call on Rusland fedotenko at 12:34 of the second..."Stralman (who was awarded the Broadway hat) has come in and been inconsistent at times, but he gave us some good minutes tonight. He's been a pretty important guys as far as being trusted in the top four."