NEW YORK – Marian Gaborik was nervous.
Already facing the pressure of coming to the New York Rangers to be the centrepiece of an offence that has struggled in recent years, Gaborik took to the ice at Madison Square Garden for the first time since signing a big deal.
Throw in the fact that a sore groin had kept him out of action for four games, and you can understand why the former star of the Minnesota Wild felt jitters.
Gaborik shed those fears in New York’s big first period with a beautiful pass that set up Enver Lisin’s power-play goal, and the Rangers went on to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 on Monday night in a pre-season game.
“I felt pretty good out there for the first game,” Gaborik said. “A new team, new arena, new fans, it was definitely my first game. I haven’t played at all so (I thought), ‘How am I going to feel?’ Stuff like that. I think it went pretty good.”
Newcomers Vinny Prospal and Lisin scored on the power play in New York’s three-goal first period. Prospal, Lisin and Ryan Callahan scored in a span of five minutes 12 seconds to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead against beleaguered goalie Daniel Larsson.
New York (2-2-1) was helped by four power plays in the period and finished with a 18-4 shots advantage through 20 minutes.
After the Red Wings (2-2) opened with a 2-1 edge in shots, New York outshot Detroit 16-0. That run ended when Ville Leino scored to make it 3-1 with 1:43 left in the period, after a shotless stretch of 15:08.
Gaborik made the play of the night. The star forward, signed away from the Minnesota Wild with a US$37.5-million, five-year deal had been sidelined by a sore groin.
He carried the puck in the Red Wings’ zone and curled near the right point as defenceman Brad Stuart tried to stay with him. Gaborik skated past Stuart down to the goal line and behind the net, with Stuart still attempting to cover him. Gaborik moved around the other side, and peeked over his shoulder as he came around the corner.
He then sent a seemingly blind pass in front to Lisin, who was wide open at the right post at 9:00 for his third goal of the pre-season – 3:47 after Prospal made it 1-0 with his first with the Rangers since signing in the off-season.
“Nobody was around. They were all spread out,” Gaborik said. “He was wide open, so I just tried to hit him.”
Prospal converted a turnover by Stuart into a goal from the right circle 5:13 in.
Callahan scored by crashing the crease to make it 3-0 with 9:35 left. It was an eventful day for Callahan, who collided with teammate Sean Avery in the morning skate. Avery was diagnosed with a sprained knee, and there was no immediate timetable for his return.
“I am not sure how long,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said after the game. “It is a sprain so he will be out for a little bit. He will be out for a couple of days.”
Leino finished a 2-on-1 rush to get the Red Wings on the board against Henrik Lundqvist. Kirk Maltby cut Detroit’s deficit to 3-2 with 10:26 remaining, but Artem Anisimov sealed it with an empty-netter.
Both starting goalies left the game 9:23 into the second period. Lundqvist made 12 saves on 13 shots, and Larsson stopped 18 of 21.
Larsson was replaced by former Rangers first-round draft pick Dan Cloutier, attempting to make a comeback after missing all of last season and most of the season before due to injuries.
If he fails to land an NHL job after his tryout with the Red Wings, he hopes to resume his career in Europe.
“It’s only half a game but I definitely happy that I’ve been through training camp,” Cloutier said. “I am definitely taking it day by day. I hope I get another chance, but if not, I understand.
“I definitely still think I can play. I’m giving an honest shot, and then when it’s time it’s going to be time. I’ll know when it’s time.”
Cloutier stopped eight shots in his first action this pre-season. Rangers backup Steve Valiquette made 16 saves.
Detroit outshot the Rangers 16-4 in the second period, and the teams tied 30-30 overall.