For much of the season, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have found themselves on different lines because John Tortorella believed “it wasn’t working” when the two stars first played together during training camp
The coach may have found a top line that he can ride for as long as the playoff run lasts because the right wing and center have seemed to have developed a symbiosis in the final days of the regular season in the final days of the regular season.
“I’m playing better and seeing the ice better than I was at the start of the year. Understanding how he plays, seeing him every night, that helps,” Richards said of the partnership with Gaborik.
The Rangers doubled up the Hurricanes, 4-2, in a precursor to Thursday night’s showdown with the returning Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. The Rangers swept the season series against Carolina.
With the league’s 30 general managers meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. to concoct ways to fix the game, the Rangers demonstrated that reinstituting the red line is not a panacea as they skated through the neutral zone with speed and creativity.
“It was a more up-and-down type of game which we don’t usually play,” Richards said. “That’s the way it went.”
The Blueshirts were aided by a Hurricanes team that set out to prove why it entered the match 13th in the East and 26th overall by allowing the Rangers to move the puck through the neutral and offensive zones without being challenged.
“Carl adds a lot of speed to our line which we can use on the forecheck; we can hang on to the puck offensively,” Gaborik said. “We had a lot of zone time which is important. What is important for our line is to use give-and-goes. Hags is quick and Richie is quick as well, and can dish the puck. If we use that give-and-go play, we can create a lot of chances.”
The line of Gaborik, Richards and Carl Hagelin dominated the game as it used its collective legs, intelligence and skill to finish with four goals and five assists for nine points and was plus-11.
“They skate so [well], if I can get a little bit of time with the puck, I can throw it in their areas,” Richards said of his linemates.
Gaborik opened the scoring 3:02 into the match. Gaborik snapped a rebound of a Dan Girardi over a sprawled Cam Ward for his 33rd of the year. Girardi’s shot ricocheted off the end boards onto Gaborik’s waiting stick.
Richards increased his consecutive games points to four as he scored back-to-back goals in 3:01 to push the Rangers’ lead to 3-0. Richards has five goals and two assists in the last four games.
The Hurricanes cut the lead to 3-2 when Tim Brent and Drayson Bowman scored consecutive goals in a 32 second span of the second period. Brent shoved a rebound of an Eric Staal shot under Martin Biron. Bowman completed a 3-on-2 rush with a tap in.
Staal nearly tied it one minute into the third with a short-handed breakaway but his shot hit the post. Staal’s shot might have been affected by Anton Stralman, who dove to the ice in an attempt to slow Staal.
Hagelin restored the Rangers two-goal lead with a wraparound with seven minutes left to conclude a shift in which the line controlled the puck along the boards. The goal was his 13th of the season.
“It’s about time,” Hagelin said of his wraparound.
Despite allowing the two goals, Biron was mostly good in his first start since March 8 as he stopped 27 shots. His counterpart, Ward, allowed the four goals on 24 shots.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.