NEW YORK, N.Y. – Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik have helped the Rangers find themselves after a rocky start to the season.
So it was only fitting that they hooked up for the goal that iced New York’s fourth straight win and helped the Rangers close out a six-game homestand with a 3-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday night.
Stepan sent a pass to Gaborik on an odd-man rush to put New York up 2-0 midway through the third period after the Rangers failed to score during a long 5-on-3 stretch. Gaborik put the exclamation point on a strong start at the renovated Madison Square Garden by backhanding the puck up and over Zach Bogosian from the blue line into the empty net in the final minute.
“It’s a good homestand at 4-1-1,” New York coach John Tortorella said.
It didn’t start that way. The Rangers lost 4-2 to Toronto and then dropped a shootout 5-4 to Ottawa before they knocked off San Jose to get things rolling, and then beat Anaheim and Montreal.
After the Rangers couldn’t muster a goal with a two-man advantage that lasted more than 90 seconds, they seemed vulnerable to a tying goal from Winnipeg.
That’s about when Stepan and Gaborik broke out.
“I guess it’s just an instinct to find the shooter on the line, and Gaby is quite a shooter,” Stepan said.
Gaborik buried Stepan’s pass at 8:31 of the third and his empty-netter gave him three goals and six assists on the homestand. That doesn’t count his shootout tally on Thursday night, either.
“It feels good to finish this homestand with a huge win,” Gaborik said. “It wasn’t a pretty game, but we managed to win this one.”
Martin Biron stopped 23 shots for his first shutout in more than two years, improving to 3-0 in his fourth appearance of the season.
Stepan put the Rangers on the board after 30 listless, sloppy minutes by teams that both played the night before, converting on New York’s second power play of the night to make it 1-0 at 10:01 of the second period. It gave Stepan four points on the power play this year, after an assist Saturday night against Montreal.
“You look at Step, his game is really stepping out, no pun intended there,” Tortorella said. “The game is clear to him, you can tell. I think he’s allowing himself to play.”
Gaborik and Stepan’s linemate, Artem Anisimov, had two assists Sunday night and has five points in four games. Stepan has six points in five games.
Despite letting a winnable game slip away, the Jets still are 3-2-1 on a seven-game road trip that ends in Buffalo on Tuesday night.
“I think it’s been a positive trip for us, but this next game is so huge,” the Jets’ Mark Stuart said. “This next game is the biggest one by far.”
The Jets kept the Rangers off the board during more than 90 seconds of two-man advantage. But the Rangers’ own defence kept Winnipeg from capitalizing.
“They block a lot of shots,” Stuart said. “They’re not afraid to block them.”
Ondrej Pavelec made 24 saves and kept the Jets in the game for most of it, including when he made nearly identical saves to thwart Erik Christensen on the doorstep during the long 5-on-3.
“We have a lot of confidence in him as defencemen,” Stuart said.
The Rangers began the season in Stockholm, with losses to Los Angeles and Anaheim. After losing at the Islanders, New York went on a trip to Western Canada, where the Rangers went 3-1 before losing their first two at home.
Riding a four-game winning streak, it all seems a long time ago.
“We showed some resilience, some battle and some heart,” Biron said. “It’s hard when you go on the road for that amount of time because sometimes there’s a let-down feeling that we’re home and it’s going to be a lot easier. There was none of that. It was a lot of hard work that has paid off in the end and that has to keep going.”
Notes: Former Rangers captain Mark Messier was shown waving from a box hours after he finished the New York City Marathon in four hours, 14 minutes, 21 seconds Sunday. … Biron’s last shutout was Oct. 31, 2009, for the Islanders against Buffalo. … Winnipeg has one game left on its road trip after visiting all three New York City-area teams. The Jets lost to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night after beating the Islanders on Thursday night. … Rangers F Sean Avery, whose name was chanted by fans ever since he rejoined the team earlier in the week, saw limited action on the fourth line. … The Jets fell to 0-2 vs. the Rangers this season. … Rangers D Dan Girardi blocked five shots.