Oh, how the New York Rangers needed right wing Marian Gaborik to thrive on Saturday in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the top-seeded Washington Capitals. The club’s alleged most skilled player and confirmed highest paid was, after all, merely incidental in this series until Wednesday, when he ended a maddening scoring drought in Game 4 before committing a gaffe that left the Rangers facing elimination.
So with New York’s season on the line and goals never more urgent, Gaborik had an opening on national television to expunge a month’s worth of inadequacy and give his team a glimmer of hope. By the time the Rangers departed Verizon Center after a season-ending 3-1 loss, and Gaborik’s scoring line comprised blanks across, it was patently clear his individual failings had become representative of New York’s as a team.
The Rangers managed eight goals in five games, including three times logging a single goal or nothing. Gaborik, meantime, finished the series with one goal and one assist for the No. 8 seed, which entered the Stanley Cup playoffs already among the league’s most scoring-challenged teams.
Partly attributable to the absence of injured forward Ryan Callahan, that deficiency became all the more glaring as Gaborik, third on the Rangers with 22 goals in the regular season, labored for quality chances the entire series under the watchful eye of a robust Capitals defense. During one sequence in the second period on Saturday, Gaborik tried to carve out some real estate in the
faceoff circle to goalie Michal Neuvirth’s right.
All the while, though, Washington defenseman Jeff Schultz was glancing over, making sure Gaborik wasn’t able to get loose for a clean look. That’s pretty much how it went for Gaborik in each game of the Rangers’ truncated playoff stay.
“We know he’s out there,” Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Everybody pays attention when he’s out there because you give him an inch, and he’s going to take off.”
Gaborik instead stayed grounded, except for his goal in the second period of Game 4 that gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead. New York added another in the period for a 3-0 advantage and appeared well on its way toward having at least one more game at Madison Square Garden.
But Washington came storming back to force double overtime, when Gaborik made a rare appearance in the defensive zone as the puck dribbled in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It had wound up there after defenseman Bryan McCabe blocked a shot by Jason Chimera, and Gaborik skated in intent on knocking it aside.
The puck instead caromed off Chimera’s chest and behind Lundqvist before the Capitals’ winger tapped it in at 12 minutes 36 seconds for a 4-3 triumph.
That one play underscored just how trying this latest stretch has been for Gaborik, who went his final nine regular season games without a goal and another three in the postseason. It’s hardly the stuff the Rangers forecasted when they signed the free agent to a five-year deal worth $37.5 million in the summer of 2009.
Gaborik’s teammates, however, weren’t assigning blame to any one player in the predictably subdued dressing room. It wasn’t as if the Rangers’ other top scorers were justified in doing so anyhow.
Only two New York players tallied more than two points in the series, and only center Brandon Dubinsky collected more than a goal. Center Brian Boyle was shut out after finishing tied for fourth with 21 regular season goals, as was promising rookie center Derek Stepan, who also had 21 goals in the regular season.
“Right now it’s tough because you want to make more of an impact, especially on a big stage like the playoffs,” Boyle said. “Everybody in here feels the same way. We all wish we could have done more.”