Panthers Vs. Rangers: Marian Gaborik's OT Winner Keeps Blueshirts On Top

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Marian Gaborik #10 of the New York Rangers scores his game winning goal at 3:21 of overtime against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden on January 5, 2012 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Panthers 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

As the Rangers returned to the ice after their Winter Classic victory, the Florida Panthers looked to take advantage of a possible "hangover". The battle of Division Leaders would need extra time before Marian Gaborik kept New York atop the Eastern Conference Standings.

As the New York Rangers returned to the ice for the first time since the Winter Classic, head coach John Tortorella wanted his team to avoid any "hangover" from the outdoor game. Perhaps to keep them sharp, he made the decision to give Martin Biron the start against the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers, who replaced the injured Jose Theodore in goal with veteran Scott Clemmensen.

Sensing the potential weakness of their high profile opponent, the Panthers pushed hard early, dominating much of the opening period before a 2-on-1 rush for Mikael Samuelsson and Marcel Goc ended with the German center firing a high glove shot to beat Biron.

The Rangers began to get back into the game after the goal, hammering Clemmensen with shot after shot. The effort was finally rewarded in the dying minutes of the period when Anton Stralman sent a long shot in from the boards that deflected off the leg of Ed Jovanovski and into the net.

Despite each team trading power play chances, the tie would hold into the third period when Florida took a bench minor for too many men on the ice. The Ranger power play unit would set up, and Brad Richards fired a shot from the top of the zone that deflected off of Ryan Callahan to give New York their first lead of the game.

The Panthers would reply almost immediately, with Mike Santorelli making a great individual effort to work his way through the Ranger defense and stickhandle down to the right faceoff dot before firing a top shelf wrister less than thirty seconds after the Callahan goal.

The Rangers continued to press Clemmensen and the Florida defense, but the Panthers would hang on through the end of regulation with their goalie having stopped 36 of 38 shots. The overtime, however, was all New York, and it clearly became a matter of "when", not "if" the Rangers would score. After several near-misses, the game finally came down to a rush by Derek Stepan, who cut his way through the Florida D before dropping a pass back to Marian Gaborik. New York's scoring leader took the shot and fired a blistering one-timer that Clemmensen had no chance to stop, and the Rangers had taken the game with 1:33 left in OT.

The win puts New York one point ahead of both Boston and Vancover for the overall NHL points lead, and four points ahead of Philadelphia for the lead in the Atlantic Division, while the Panthers will take their consolation point to give themselves a four point cushion over Washington in the Southeast.

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