NEW YORK, N.Y. – Inside, outside. Home or away. It really doesn’t matter much where the New York Rangers play these days. They are winning games all over the NHL.
The Rangers started the season in Europe, endured a long road trip out of the gate as Madison Square Garden was being renovated, and knocked off the Flyers in Philadelphia on Monday in the annual outdoor Winter Classic.
It’s still early, but the fact is through 38 games, no team has more points.
Marian Gaborik scored 3:29 into overtime for the Rangers, who took a season-high 41 shots, outlasted the Florida Panthers 3-2 and moved to the top of the NHL standings on Thursday night with their eighth win in nine games.
Gaborik has 23 goals, surpassing the 22 he had last season in an injury-plagued campaign.
“A lot of people were talking about me coming and helping Gabby,” said Brad Richards, New York’s prized free-agent acquisition last summer. “Gabby has had many good seasons with whomever he’s played with.”
This one didn’t start out great for New York, which trailed early but entered the first intermission tied 1-1. The Rangers led for less than a minute in the third, and still didn’t get down when Florida tied it again. They held the puck for the final minute of regulation, comfortable with one standings point and confident enough they could pry away the second one in overtime.
“It was one of those games that if you blink, you could lose it because it was such a tight-checking game,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “They defended really well, but we found a way. It took us until overtime, but we found a way.”
Gaborik took a drop pass from Derek Stepan in the high slot and slapped in the winner. New York (25-9-4) stayed one point ahead of Boston in the Eastern Conference, but jumped one point in front of West-leading Vancouver.
“We have won different ways this year, and even though it was a tie game we stuck with it and didn’t panic,” Gaborik said. “We just kept going, and that’s how we got to this point so far this season.”
Martin Biron, starting for the fourth time in nine games to give No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist a lighter workload, made 19 saves. Defenceman Anton Stralman and captain Ryan Callahan also scored for the Rangers, who showed no ill effects coming back to play indoors after their Winter Classic victory.
Lundqvist is expected to start Friday at Pittsburgh.
Marcel Goc and Mike Santorelli scored goals, Mikael Samuelsson had two assists and Scott Clemmensen stopped 38 shots for the Southeast Division-leading Panthers, 0-2-3 in their last five road games—including two losses at Madison Square Garden.
Florida also lost 4-1 at home to the Rangers last Friday in a much chippier game.
“We’re disappointed even though this is a top team and we’re playing in their building,” Clemmensen said. “We’re not satisfied with that. We want to beat everyone every night. This was a tough test for us.”
The Rangers took their first lead 4:24 into the third when Callahan scored his 14th goal during a power play after Florida was caught with too many men on the ice. Richards’ shot from above the left circle clipped the glove of defenceman Mike Weaver as he tried to block the drive and then hit Callahan in front before getting past Clemmensen.
There wasn’t even enough time for the goal to be announced to the joyous crowd before the Panthers scored 36 seconds later. Santorelli, who served the too-many-men penalty, let go a shot from the centre of the right circle that squeezed in between Biron’s left shoulder and the top corner to make it 2-all at 5:00.
Florida grabbed a 1-0 lead with an early 2-on-1 break that turned into Goc’s third of the season 4:16 in. Goc snapped a rising, fluttering shot that sailed past Biron’s glove, smacked the crossbar and found its way in.
Goc just returned to the lineup on Thursday after missing 22 games because of an undisclosed upper-body injury. Samuelsson also just got back following a five-game absence, also caused by an upper-body injury.
New York tied it before the period expired when Stralman scored his first goal with the Rangers at 17:44, a goal that Tortorella said was crucial. Stralman, in his15th game with the Rangers since signing as a free agent, hadn’t scored since last Feb. 18 at Chicago, while with Columbus—a span of 22 games.
New York held a 16-8 edge in shots in the first period and had the only power play after Weaver was whistled for boarding. The Rangers couldn’t take advantage of it in the second period, which was mostly uneventful.
New York outshot Florida 8-5, but this time the Panthers had the only power play—a boarding call against Ruslan Fedotenko, who took out Santorelli.
“You’ve got to generate some offensive opportunities, and we had 13 shots after two periods,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “I like that our game progressed as it went on, but we spent a lot of time working in the defensive zone instead of creating in the offensive zone.”
NOTES: Former President Bill Clinton was in attendance, and caught a puck tossed to him as he sat by the glass. … Samuelsson played in his 13th game of the season. He sat out 20 between Oct. 24 and Dec. 5 because of a lower-body injury. … Goc hadn’t played since Nov. 15. … Stralman has five assists with the Rangers. … Callahan has a six-game point streak. … Panthers forward Krys Barch served a one-game suspension for an inappropriate comment to Montreal’s P.K. Subban on Saturday.