Gaborik's goal: Get past the gaffe

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers right winger Marian Gaborik probably wishes he could do it all over again.

Given a second chance, perhaps he would've seen goaltender Henrik Lundqvist come out of his crease to try to cover the puck.

Therefore, Gaborik wouldn't have tried to clear it out of harm's way himself.

But in the Stanley Cup playoffs, there are no second chances. In this case, history has already been made.

Gaborik's failed clearing attempt, which deflected behind a sprawling Lundqvist, was banged home by unmarked Washington Capitals left winger Jason Chimera with 7:24 left in double overtime on Wednesday night, and just like that the Rangers, who blew a 3-0 Game 4 lead, lost 4-3 and found themselves down 3-1 in the series.

"It's tough to swallow," said Gaborik, who earlier snapped a 12-game goalless drought, giving the Rangers a 2-0 edge in the second period. "I just tried to collapse because the puck got deflected, and it came out in front of Hank. I tried to clear it. I didn't know that Hank was going for it. Chimera got behind there and put it in."

A previously raucous Madison Square Garden had been stunned and silenced. So, too, had Gaborik.

Add that nightmare -- as fluky it was -- to a season full of them.

The hockey gods have not been kind to Gaborik in 2010-11. In fact, they've been downright cruel.

Gaborik, 29, has been injured and benched for his ineffectiveness offensively. And to top it all off, even when he tried to make a rare smart defensive play in his end zone (coming in on the backcheck), it backfired in his face and became one of the biggest postseason gaffes in franchise history.

Oh, the irony.

"It was just bad luck," Gaborik said. "I should've seen Hank going for it. It was just a fluky goal. If I would've seen him, I would've let go."

Had Gaborik done so, the two teams might still be playing Game 4 right now. Instead, the Rangers are on the brink of elimination. In their 85-year existence, they've been down 3-1 in a best-of-seven playoff series 14 times. And all 14 times, they've been eliminated.

"I can't do anything about last game," Gaborik said. "I've just got to learn from what I've done wrong. We played a great 40 minutes, but we want to stay positive and take confidence from the first two periods. We want to go there with an attitude. We know that we can play those guys. We can beat them. We know that. We just have to have a good start and put this game behind us. We need to go there and win one game."

The Rangers had good intentions when they signed Gaborik to a 5-year, $37.5 million contract on July 1, 2009. They needed someone who could put the puck in the back of the net, and there are few as adept at doing that as the two-time All-Star, whose peers on the ice voted him as the fastest skater in the league (he received 37 percent of the vote of 318 players who participated).

Gaborik certainly lived up the lofty expectations that came with his hefty annual salary last season ($7.5 million), matching his career-high with 42 goals. But this season, he missed a combined 20 games because of a shoulder injury and a concussion and has failed to develop chemistry with anyone on the team, despite being put on a number of different line combinations by coach John Tortorella.

(Tortorella's team plays a blue-collar, grind-it-out style of hockey, and that hasn't been conducive to Gaborik's high-flying, open-ice skill set. He also has looked lost on the power play, as have his teammates. The Rangers are 2-for-45 on the man-advantage their past 13 games.)

Gaborik has had his moments. There's no question about that. But 10 of his 22 regular-season goals came in a combined three games, and for the most part he's been a nonfactor. It was his lack of offensive production that prompted Tortorella to bench him during the second period of a Jan. 16 game.

"It's just we need production. I'll leave it at that," Tortorella said at the time. "We need production from him. We've got guys in there grinding their asses off and developing scoring chances. We need some of our skill guys to score a goal for us."

The Rangers were hoping Gaborik would rediscover his goal-scoring touch in the postseason. Unfortunately, it took him four games to do that.

Then came the gaffe.

"I just have to put it behind me, take the positives from the game and go into the next game full of energy and try to play with confidence," Gaborik said. "You can't beat yourself up about it. It is what it is."

Gaborik said he watched the replay when he got home. Then he had dinner and went to bed. He wasn't about to lose any sleep over it.

"We're professionals," Gaborik said. "Everybody's gotta move by these things. We have the next game on Saturday, and we gotta do everything we can to come up with a win.

"It's tough to swallow, but I've just got to move by it."

ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote a week ago that Gaborik needed to make his mark, have his "moment" for the eighth-seeded Rangers to upset the top-seeded Capitals.

Now he has that moment. And it couldn't have been more brutal.

So now the Rangers' backs are against the wall. They'll need to win three in a row or their season will be over.

Gaborik's faux pas may have been a fluke. He may have been trying to make the right play. But that play, the one that somehow blew up, will forever be known as "Gabby's Gaffe."

The hockey gods can be downright cruel.

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPN NewYork.com.