Marian Gaborik(notes) almost single-handedly snapped the New York Rangers’ string of five straight losses in the club’s most recent game. New York’s next opponent doesn’t want its current streak to end.
The Los Angeles Kings try for their first seven-game winning streak since the days of Wayne Gretzky when the Rangers visit Staples Center on Tuesday night.
While New York’s positioning in a crowded Eastern Conference playoff race has suffered as a result of its recent swoon, the Kings (33-19-3) are in great position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002. Los Angeles last won seven in a row during an eight-game run Feb. 23-March 9, 1992, when it was led by Gretzky.
The Kings have not made it easy on themselves as they have moved to the brink of matching that feat. They defeated Buffalo 4-3 in a shootout Jan. 21 and followed it by recording the first 5-0 road trip in franchise history.
Los Angeles finished the trip with a flourish, scoring two goals in the last two minutes for a 3-2 win over New Jersey on Sunday.
“This road trip has been pretty exciting,” coach Terry Murray said. “You get five wins on the road at this time of the year with the desperation that everyone is playing with and it’s pretty remarkable the way we have dug in. This game was a real good look at the kind of team we are starting to become, a lot of character, big heart, never gave up.”
With a firm hold on fifth place in the West, the Kings play five of six at home before the Olympic break, and they will try to continue their stellar defensive play. They allowed 10 goals during the trip, with workhorse goalie Jon Quick seeing all of the action.
Leading scorer Anze Kopitar(notes) has sparked the club offensively by recording at least a point in each game of the winning streak, totaling four goals and six assists. He assisted on Drew Doughty’s(notes) winner against the Devils.
“It’s not like we are winning games on accident,” Quick said. “We’re sticking to the system and doing all the little things right. Everyone is contributing and sticking up for one another. You catch bounces and win games like that when you play like that.”
The Rangers (25-24-7) weren’t feeling nearly as confident while getting outscored 20-5 during a season-worst five-game skid, but Gaborik may have helped turn the tide just in time. The right wing notched his first hat trick with New York and 10th of his career in a 3-1 win at Colorado on Sunday night.
New York is eighth in the East.
“It’s a boost of energy for this club and myself as well to finally get a win and feel good about ourselves,” said Gaborik, who ranks fifth in the NHL with 65 points and has had a hand in nearly half of the Rangers’ goals.
New York also got some help from Chad Johnson(notes), who was pressed into service with No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist(notes) battling a stomach illness. Johnson made 34 saves for his first NHL victory, and he could start again Tuesday with Lundqvist’s status unclear.
The Rangers also brought in some help for Gaborik, acquiring center Olli Jokinen(notes) and left wing Brandon Prust(notes) from the Calgary Flames on Monday night in exchange for underachieving forwards Christopher Higgins(notes) and Ales Kotalik(notes).
Jokinen—a four-time 30-goal scorer, struggled in his first season in Calgary with only 11 goals and 35 points in 56 games. Prust had a team-high 98 penalty minutes and is second in the NHL with 18 fighting majors.
Higgins and Kotalik combined for 14 goals and 22 assists as the two never became comfortable after joining the Rangers in the offseason.