The New York Rangers were handed a nice gift before their Sunday night tilt with the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden. The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-4 earlier in the day, reducing the Rangers’ magic number to 1. At minimum, all the Rangers needed to do to clinch the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference was take the Bruins into overtime.
Unfortunately for those in attendance, the party had to be put on hold as the Bruins finally defeated the Rangers this season, taking the game 2-1 and clinch the Northeast Division in the process.
Special teams made all the difference. After two consecutive games where the Rangers managed to score two power play goals, they went 0-for-3 (including a brief 5-on-3 after Daniel Paille was called for delay of game 43 seconds into the third period). A mistake by the normally dependable Dan Girardi while killing off Michael Del Zotto’s interference penalty at 10:30 in the second period led to the Patrice Bergeron goal that put the Bruins ahead for good.
Somewhat lost in the disappointment of Sunday night’s result was Marian Gaborik’s accomplishment. On a breakaway at 4:33 in the first period, Gaborik beat Tim Thomas and scored his 40th goal of the season. The tally put him in some exclusive company as he joined Jean Ratelle and Mike Gartner as the only players to score at least 40 goals twice as a Blueshirt.
The 2010-11 season was among the worst of his career, during which he suffered a separated shoulder in the home opener on October 15th that cost him twelve games off the bat. He went on to miss eight more games – one with a groin, one with the flu and six with a concussion. In the 62 games he dressed for, he looked utterly lost. He scored 22 goals, but they came in clusters – four in one game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and then three-goal efforts against the New York Islanders and the Edmonton Oilers. Not that three hat tricks in a season is unimpressive, but when close to half the goals he scored came in three games, it’s not the consistent offensive output you expect from your high-priced sniper. In what wound up a five-game series in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals, he managed one goal and one assist.
In the offseason, he was dealt two personal blows. On May 13th, his friend and teammate from both his days with the Minnesota Wild and the Rangers, Derek Boogaard, was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment from what turned out to be an lethal combination of alcohol and prescription painkillers. Then mere days before the opening of training camp came the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy that claimed the life of Gaborik’s countryman and good friend Pavol Demitra. Gaborik returned to his hometown of Trencin, Slovakia to remember Demitra. (Memorial stickers for Boogaard have adorned the helmets of all of the Rangers this season; Gaborik also wears one for Demitra beside it on his.)
Gaborik has been able to put the disappointing season and the offseason tragedies behind him, and has returned to the player the Rangers were expecting him to be when he signed as a free agent in 2009. At least for this season, Gaborik has been able to leave behind the reputation of being fragile. He has dressed for all 79 games the Rangers have played to this point, making him one of seven to do so. Staying healthy has been a key factor in getting into a rhythm. Gaborik has looked far more comfortable and confident in the Rangers’ defense-first system then he did last season. Earlier in the year he found chemistry with Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov and now has done likewise with rookie Carl Hagelin and Brad Richards. When the latter trio gets the puck and heads down ice, it just feels as though they are going to make something happen. Of his 40 goals, seven have been game-winners, putting him third on the team behind Richards (9) and Ryan Callahan (8)
The Rangers have had many great storylines that have helped them surpass any expectations – Henrik Lundqvist’s Vezina-worthy goaltending; Girardi and Ryan McDonagh stepping up big-time for the injury-depelted defense; Callahan having a career year and showing why that “C” belongs on his chest. A healthy and consistently productive Gaborik is also a big reason why the Rangers are on the cusp of accomplishing something no one thought they would do in 2011-12.
News and Notes
The Rangers will get another chance to clinch tonight when they visit the Flyers. There will be no lineup changes, meaning Henrik Lundqvist will make his 10th consecutive start. They just need to earn one point tonight, or have the Pittsburgh Penguins lose either in regulation or overtime in Boston to give them the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference titles … The MTA unveiled three Rangers playoff-wrapped subway cars that will run on the shuttle line from Times Square to Grand Central Station … Limited individual playoff tickets for the first two rounds of the playoffs go on sale Wednesday at noon.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927