Marian Gaborik, who has been hampered by nagging lower-body injuries since before and after the Olympics, was flying.
“I felt good, really good,” said Gaborik, who fired a team-high eight shots at Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen and scored his 41st of the season into an empty net with a minute to play.
“Gabby was a workhorse,” said Chris Drury of the right wing, who played 23:12 and was awarded his 42nd assist on Drury’s goal at 11:06 of the third that provided a 3-1 edge to the Rangers. The Slovak sniper also tied Marc Staal for a team-high plus-3.
The two points tied Gaborik’s career high for a season with four games to play; he was 42-41-83 with Minnesota in 2007-08.
Brandon Prust, who banged in a rebound to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the third, also scored the opening goal in the 5-0 shutout of Tampa. His response to whether he’d ever gotten two game-winners in a row: “No. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten two in a season.” Prust, obtained from Calgary with Olli Joikinen on Feb. 2, has four goals and 161 penalty minutes.
Two other Rangers known more for their bruising play, added assists. “Jody (Shelley) threw the first one to the net (Prust’s goal) and then A.V. (Aaron Voros)” said Drury. Voros’ rebound was shoveled in by Drury, who said: “We needed to get guys at the net, we talked about it all game.” Voros, who fought Nick Tarnasky 1:48 into the game, has a goal and two assists in the last three games. Shelley has three assists in the last six games.
After the Rangers lost to the Bruins 2-1 on March 21 and fell seven points out of a playoff spot, Tortorella circled the wagons and played the media card.
“You get into a situation after the Boston game where it’s all gloom and doom,” he said. “Some of the stuff you guys write, we just try to block out all the negative stuff around us. It’s like, we’ve got nothing else to lose here, I think our locker room loosened up.”
Ryan Callahan missed his fourth consecutive game with a knee injury. Brian Boyle missed his sixth consecutive game with a left ankle injury. Sean Avery sat for the third straight with a knee issue. None of the three have skated, and Tortorella called them “day-to-day”.
No religious references intended, but that was quite a resurrection here in Sunrise. The Rangers live to skate another night. Tuesday in Buffalo.
For two periods tonight, the Rangers bore no resemblance to a team in the hunt for a final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a week left in the regular season.
But trailing 1-0 after 40 minutes to the more energetic and creative Florida Panthers, who were facing elimination from the post-season, defenseman Marc Staal picked up the puck from Henrik Lundqvist, went coast-to-coast and scored his third goal in three games to wake up the Blueshirts.
Staal’s wrister from the left side zipped past former Devils netminder Scott Clemmensen's glove at the 18-second mark and the gates opened as the Rangers scored three more in the crucial 4-1 win at Bank Atlantic Center. It was the first time all season that the Rangers had won after being behind after the second intermission: They were 0-24-2.
“All game we were just kind of hanging around, and we knew we needed the points more than they did,” said Staal of his eighth goal. “I told Hank to leave it and I found some room, then just put it on net. I think I’m more conscious of trying to hit the net when I get opportunities, that’s the biggest thing.”
Brandon Prust, who flipped in a high backhander at 9:36 of the third for his second game-winner in two nights, called Staal’s effort “the turning point of the game…We all jumped up on the bench,” he said. “It gave us new life.”
Chris Drury gave the Rangers an insurance goal from the blue paint 1:30 later and the Rangers remained in the playoff picture with four games to play. Marian Gaborik’s 41st of the season, an empty-netter with a minute to play, ended a string of four consecutive goals.
In winning their third straight and sweeping this two-game Florida swing, the Rangers extended their last-ditch run to 5-0-1. The two points, which gave them 82, lifted them into ninth place ahead of Atlanta, with 81, and tied them in points with the eighth-place Flyers, who have more wins. The Rangers close the season with home and home games against Philadelphia.
The Blueshirts barely avoided what could have been a fatal step back against the struggling Panthers, as two teams ahead of them in the post-season chase, Boston and Montreal, picked up points last night. The Canadiens have 86; the Bruins 84.
“I don’t think our team’s tired,” coach John Tortorella said before the game. Funny, they looked it.
The Panthers, playing with three defensemen who have spent most of the season in Rochester and Clay Wilson, who was playing in his first NHL game, took a 1-0 lead in the second when veteran defenseman Keith Ballard scored his eighth of the year, a wrister from the left point that clanged off the crossbar and in just seconds after a penalty to Michal Rozsival had expired at 6:38.
The Rangers never generated much in the first period, with just five shots. Lundqvist, playing his 13th straight and 21st in the last 22, kept the game scoreless in the first, making saves on Stephen Weiss and Dmitry Kulikov and sliding to his left to deny a wide-open Nathan Horton on a backdoor pass with just over five minutes left in the period.He finished with 19 saves.
“We weren’t happy with our first two periods,” said Prust. “We were sitting on the bench in the third and started looked at each other and said “Let’s get going.” Then Staal, the 23-year-old shutdown defenseman who is gaining more confidence in his offense, came up with a big play. "L.A. to New York," laughed Anders Eriksson.
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