If the New York Rangers are going to make a successful, last-ditch run at a playoff spot, this is the Marian Gaborik they will need in the final nine games.
He looked healthy, inspired, and he skated at an all-star level. Gaborik had a goal and an assist during a three-goal first period, then scored again in the final frame in the Rangers' 5-0 win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night. After losing three straight, including a devastating 2-1 loss Sunday at Boston, the Rangers brought a newfound looseness into this one.
They will require a similar performance Thursday when they visit the New Jersey Devils.
The Rangers came out hard and scored three times on 12 shots in the first 8:30 against goalie Dwayne Roloson. The 10th-place Rangers moved within five points of eighth-place Boston.
"We just have to focus on carrying this game over," Gaborik said. "We're still alive and we believe."
Gaborik scored his second of the game and team-leading 39th this season with 9:16 left. Defenceman Dan Girardi added New York's second power-play tally with 3:41 remaining to make it 5-0.
Artem Anisimov got the offence started at 3:12. Gaborik followed 2:33 later and then helped set up defenceman Michael Del Zotto's power-play goal at 8:30 that made it 3-0. The Rangers held a 12-2 shots edge at that point and went on to outshoot the Islanders 44-27, making it a relatively easy night for goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"Embarrassing," Islanders forward Kyle Okposo said. "We came out flat. We weren't ready to play. They had 14 shots in the first 10 minutes. That's not the way we play hockey here."
It was Lundqvist's third shutout of the season and the 23rd of his five-year NHL career. He is one win away from his fifth straight 30-win campaign.
"When you get a win like this, you start to feel it again," Lundqvist said. "It's been a while since we have had this feeling. The only thing we can do right now is continue to battle and fight."
The game was the first hockey contest to be shown on 3D television, but it didn't take high technology to see which team played with more desperation. The Islanders, playing for the first time since an 1-1-1 West Coast trip ended Saturday, are 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. They have been shut out in consecutive games and haven't scored since the second period of Friday night's overtime loss at Anaheim - a stretch of 145 minutes, 43 seconds.
Roloson recovered from his rough start and finished with 39 saves. He kept the Islanders in relative shooting distance by stopping Erik Christensen and Gaborik on breakaways in the second period when the Rangers outshot the Islanders 17-3.
"You can't win hockey games coming out and playing like that," Roloson said. "It's a big rivalry. It's potentially playoff hopes on the line here. To come out like that is unfortunate.
"I can't worry about anybody else. I've just got to focus on what I do and try to give our guys a chance."
The Rangers said Tuesday after practice that a looser atmosphere enveloped the team after Sunday's loss delivered a severe blow to their playoff hopes.
They wasted little time in displaying an intense focus that was arguably missing in the loss to Boston and through large chunks of what has shaped up to be a disappointing season - the first full campaign under coach John Tortorella.
"They deserved to win," Tortorella said. "If they can be loose and feel good about themselves and just allow themselves to play, we'll take our chances.
"It's going to be more difficult tomorrow. No offence to the Islanders, but the New Jersey Devils are a better hockey club."
Sean Avery quickly got under the skin of the Islanders, jawing with Roloson and engaging in a discussion with defenceman Bruno Gervais. Avery was also seen chatting with Trevor Gillies and Freddy Meyer during pregame warmups.
Gaborik, who injured a groin during the Vancouver Olympics, had only two goals and five assists in eight games following the break. He took a pass from Brandon Dubinsky from behind the net and scored from in front to make it 2-0. Gaborik's pass from the left circle to the right circle set up Del Zotto's one-timer that pushed the lead to three.
"He was skating right from the get-go," Tortorella said of Gaborik.
Anisimov also scored from the right circle after a shot from Matt Gilroy hit Rangers teammate Jody Shelley in front.
NOTES: The Rangers failed to score on a 2-minute, 5-on-3 advantage in the third period, but converted on the second half of the power play. ... Islanders D Dustin Kohn was injured in the third and didn't return.