NEW YORK – When New York Rangers GM Glen Sather dealt Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets a little over a year ago, he couldn’t have imagined that his former player would be terrorizing his team in the Stanley Cup final.
It’s ironic that as the Rangers try to claw their way back into the championship series, Gaborik is exactly the kind of player the Rangers could use – a finisher with a sense of opportunism and a penchant for scoring big goals. That Gaborik goes into Game 3 of the final leading the league in playoff scoring with 13 goals may come as a bit of a surprise, considering he had just 11 in 41 games in the regular season. But a reawakened and reinvigorated Gaborik producing the way he has isn’t all that much of a shocker.
And he has been that with the Kings. Ever since arriving in Los Angeles, Gaborik has been embraced by the team’s leadership group. Mike Richards took Gaborik out and showed him around and Jeff Carter opened his home to Gaborik. The Kings did so knowing that Gaborik might not be around too long, since he is due to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi said the reception Gaborik received was instrumental in him being able to make a seamless transition on the ice. Lombardi said the players’ attitude toward Gaborik was essential. “(They said to him), ‘You’re not a rental, you’re not a mercenary, we’re going to get you in this family, in this circle in a hurry.’ Carter taking him to his house instead of making him stay at a hotel, Mike Richards taking him to breakfast. The way they’ve embraced him has made this transition easier for him and got him a buy in.”
He has bought into the Kings system, although it might be a stretch to suggest that Gaborik will ever be a 200-foot player. Playing on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown has helped. Kopitar is arguably the best two-way player in the NHL and might soon have the Selke Trophy to prove it. He has established a quick chemistry with his linemates and has given the Kings more options down the roster. Coach Darryl Sutter having the flexibility to put together a second line of Jeff Carter between Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson was in part possible because of Gaborik and his presence allows Sutter to make in-game adjustments.
“He has allowed us to move players around a little bit,” Sutter said. “Gaborik can play right wing, left wing.”
Game 3 will mark the first time Gaborik has played at MSG since leaving the Rangers. And as good as Gaborik has been in these playoffs, the trade has worked out very well for the Rangers as well. The return on the Gaborik trade came in the form of Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore, players who have all played a significant role in the Rangers run to the final.
“I like Marian a lot,” Sather said. “I think he’s a great guy and a great player. To get the kind of quality players that we were able to get, we needed depth on our team, and it certainly did it for us. I’m happy for Marian. He’s a terrific guy. It was like every trade. It’s complicated and difficult.”
For his part, Gaborik said it will not be difficult to get motivated for the game. The Stanley Cup final tends to provide all the juice a player needs, but playing his former team in such a historic building makes it more special. Gaborik’s biggest contribution to this point came in Game 2 when he jumped on Ryan McDonagh’s giveaway and Henrik Lundqvist’s poor rebound control to tie the game 4-4 and send it to overtime.
“I don’t think I met or talked to any player that didn’t like to play in the Garden,” Gaborik. “Definitely the building has a lot of history. Everybody that goes and plays there, it has that extra jump. Just to look around the building itself, it has some sort of an energy that you want to be in there and you want to just play. A lot of our guys, the whole team, will have that energy.”