The crisp chill at the Winter Classic may have cooled off Marian Gaborik for a night, but the Rangers forward got right back to business last night.
Gaborik ripped off seven goals during a five-game streak from Dec. 17-Dec. 26 -- all New York wins -- before getting held off the scoresheet for three straight games. That included a minus-one rating in Monday's Winter Classic victory over the Flyers, but the 29-year-old potted his 23rd goal of the season on Thursday night with 1:31 left in overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 win over the Panthers.
Gaborik took a drop pass from Derek Stepan before lasering a shot from the high slot. His eight goals in nine games has him tied for second-most in the league overall.
Ryan Callahan scored to push his point streak to six straight games (2 goals, 5 assists) and Anton Stralman also tallied for the Rangers, who have won eight of nine and lead all NHL clubs with 54 points.
"It was one of those games that if you blank you could lose it because it was such a tight checking game. They defended really well but we found a way. It took us to overtime but we found a way and I thought Step (Derek Stepan) made a great play as far as using his speed to back him off," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said.
While the Rangers are set to play on back-to-back nights, the Penguins hit the ice for the first time since New Year's Eve, when they suffered a 3-1 loss to the Devils. The hobbled club is still without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang among others due to injury, but did activate both Paul Martin (leg) and Richard Park (foot) from injured reserve on Thursday.
Pascal Dupuis (upper body) and Aaron Asham (lower body) are also day-to-day with injuries and are questionable for tonight, but at least the healthy Pittsburgh skaters should have fresh legs for this contest.
"It's never a bad thing," Pens center Jordan Staal said of the extended break. "It's not too often you get that much time off. It's nice for the body to kind of get back fresh again. It's obviously a good thing."
"It's tough because the guys are out there playing hard," said Fleury. "We're giving it our all every night, but you can't win every game."
The Penguins, who trail the Rangers by eight points in the standings, will play their next three at home and have won three of their last four as the host.
These Atlantic Division rivals are meeting for just the second time this year, with the Rangers capturing a 4-3 home win back on Nov. 29 behind a goal and two assists from Brad Richards. Callahan and Gaborik also scored and Lundqvist made 24 saves.
New York has won three straight and five of its past seven versus the Penguins, taking four in a row at Pittsburgh.