A large part of Marian Gaborik’s tremendous 41-goal regular season was his willingness to take the puck to the net. The reluctance that crept into his game last season seemed to disappear as he crashed the crease and routinely drove into the gritty areas of the ice.
He needs to do more of that now with his Rangers club tied 2-2 with Ottawa heading into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
“We have to do more, myself and everybody else,” Gaborik said following Saturday’s morning skate.
The 30-year-old sniper has been limited to one goal in the first four games of the series and has not demonstrated the requisite tenacity in battling in the trenches in front of Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.
He’s not alone, either. The Senators have made what should be a lopsided series a difficult one for the top-seeded Rangers, out-muscling them and setting the tone with their physicality.
“The series is very tight and it’s going to be even tighter right now so we just have to get into the blue, try to create traffic in front of Anderson and win battles in front of the net, and when there’s a point shot, try to get rebounds,” Gaborik said. “It’s playoff hockey, so we just have to get some ugly goals there.”
Although Gaborik was generating plenty in the last eight games of the season while playing with rookie Carl Hagelin and dynamic center Brad Richards on the team’s top line, Hagelin’s absence has hurt his production. The speedy winger, who was slapped with a three-game suspension for his hit on Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson in Game 2, was the catalyst to making the team’s top tandem go. Absent his relentless puck-hounding presence, Gaborik and the team has struggled to fill the void.
“We miss him in there, but we have to just deal without him,” he said. “Obviously we just have to be more aggressive in terms of trying to do more fore-checking and get some pucks.”
Gaborik has since been separated from Richards. The two played on different lines in Game 4 and practiced the same way Saturday. Although coach John Tortorella wouldn’t commit to any lineup information, it appears Gaborik will reunite with former linemates Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan from earlier this season.
“We had good chemistry earlier. We have to get that back starting tonight, especially 5-on-5, build some offense and be responsible defensively,” he said. “We’ve been successful with the fore-check, our zone time. That’s what we have to do tonight.”
The Rangers need Gaborik, their leading goal-scorer in the regular season, to produce. Especially with a pivotal Game 5 awaiting the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Gaborik is up for the challenge.
“Now it becomes a best-of-three [series],” he said. “Now we have to find some offense, take advantage of home ice tonight and come up big.”