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The Rangers Found a Top Line That Works, for Now

For purposes of this post, at least, we're going to define the Rangers top line as the one with Marian Gaborik on it — even if, so far this season, the line featuring Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky on the wings has consistently been the team's most effective. Gaborik, after all, is their most dynamic offensive player, and it's John Tortorella's job to surround him with linemates who can bring out his best game.

For whatever reason, Eric Christensen has chemistry with Gaborik, even if Christensen is by no means a top-line center. But finding another winger for the Gaborik line has proven difficult, particularly since Alex Frolov has been even worse than we feared. And so last night, Sean Avery got his turn on the top line. Avery's a better hockey player than he's given credit for — even if his role requires him to get under the skin of the opponent as much as, if not more than, it requires him to generate offense. Last night it showed.

Avery notched three assists, and Gaborik scored his second hat trick of the season in a wild 6–5 Rangers win in which momentum shifted back and forth all night — and in which Martin Biron was pulled in favor of Henrik Lundqvist halfway through the second period. Should we expect this line to stick together for the rest of the season? Well, no: Avery earned the spot over the past few games, but he's also proven inconsistent this year. And perhaps that's how this season will play out, at least until Vinny Prospal returns: Tortorella juggling his lines — and that Gaborik line, especially — in hopes of games like last night where everything clicks.

Not that the Rangers want to find themselves in a lot of matches in which a 2–0 lead becomes a 3–2 deficit that becomes a 5–3 lead that becomes a 5–5 tie that becomes a 6–5 lead that the Rangers would mercifully protect over the last five minutes. And though games against the Islanders are always hard-fought — you'll recall that the Isles rallied to beat the Rangers back on Columbus Day — the Rangers really shouldn't have so much trouble with a team that's won just once since October 21. But if a wide-open game like this allows them to find a top line they can stick with for a little while — and get a win in the process — they'll take it. In any case, the teams play again tonight at the Garden.

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Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images