The task was daunting enough without factoring in the struggles of top scoring threat Marian Gaborik and the latest key injury that will sideline scoring leader Brandon Dubinsky for maybe a month.
Whether it was a benching three nights earlier or the realization that his team needed him to raise his game, Gaborik heeded the call and had a night to remember.
Gaborik busted out with four goals and an assist, and the Rangers scored four times in the first period en route to a 7-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
New York, which had lost two straight, finished a stretch of five games in nine days before a three-game trip.
Just a few hours after the Rangers said Dubinsky would be out three to four weeks because of a stress fracture in his left leg, Gaborik picked up the slack as coach John Tortorella had been begging him to do.
``It feels good,'' said Gaborik, who went eight games without a goal. ``It has been a battle lately. I need to get going. It is always a big relief to get the first one. It just took off from there.''
Gaborik, who has scored five goals in a game, had two goals in the first period and two more in the second as the Rangers picked on goalies Jonas Gustavsson and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. New York scored a season-high seven for the third time.
Gaborik and Brian Boyle connected for three goals in a 2:26 span in the first frame to chase Gustavsson. Giguere came on and allowed Ruslan Fedotenko's ninth.
Giguere finished the period, but resumed his seat on the bench at the start of the second. Gustavsson was touched for Gaborik's final two goals that gave him 15 overall and three hat tricks this season. He has 13 in the NHL.
Toronto had two fruitless power plays before the Rangers took over.
``We started well, but there was a giveaway and our defence got overwhelmed in the first period,'' Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. ``Basically, the game was over at 4-0. They made us look silly.''
Gaborik's new linemates, Artem Anisimov and Sean Avery, also enjoyed big production. Anisimov had four assists to give him a career high in points for a game, and Avery chipped in with three assists. Mats Zuccarello closed the scoring 53 seconds into the third.
Henrik Lundqvist had a quiet night, facing only 22 shots to earn his seventh shutout of the season and likely the easiest of his 31 career NHL blankings. Boyle and Gaborik scored on the power play, a unit that produced twice in 32 chances before the Leafs came to town.
Lundqvist has five shutouts in 20 outings.
Gustavsson allowed six goals on 25 shots - three on 11 shots in the first period. Toronto is 0-2-1 since a four-game winning streak and has given up at least five goals three times in seven contests.
``We started OK and then we gave up the first one and they just poured it on us,'' Toronto forward Phil Kessel said. ``It was just not a good game for us and we've got to be better.''
Gaborik had only three goals and six assists in 19 games since his previous hat trick Dec. 2 against the New York Islanders. That led to Tortorella sitting him out for most of the second period of a 3-2 loss to Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Rangers had scored two goals or fewer in eight of the previous nine games, going 4-4-1 - including a 1-3 rut before Wednesday.
Gaborik got things going with 9:05 left in the first when he deftly manoeuvred at the right post around Gustavsson, who had lost his stick. Boyle made it 2-0 1:50 later, tipping in Marc Staal's shot for his career-best 16th goal.
Gaborik finished the first scoring burst only 36 seconds after that when Anisimov fed a brilliant backhand pass from behind the net to him alone at the right post.
Giguere came on and immediately turned aside a 2-on-1.
Fedotenko stretched the lead to 4-0 with 4:20 left in the first. Gaborik then scored from a tough, low angle by squeezing a shot between Gustavsson's pads at 11:16 of the second. Gaborik made it 6-0 at 14:44 during a power play.
Toronto nearly got on the board 1:35 into the third, but Clarke MacArthur's goal was waved off because he hit the puck with a high stick.
``They got a couple of chances,'' Lundqvist said. ``I wanted to get a shutout.''
NOTES: Gaborik's three hat tricks are the most for the Rangers since Jaromir Jagr had three in the 2005-06 season. ... Radek Dvorak was the last New York player with four goals in a game, March 29, 2001, against the Islanders. ... Fedotenko sprained his left shoulder in the second period when he took an open-ice hit from D Mike Komisarek and will be out two to four weeks. ... New York recalled forwards Chad Kolarik and Brodie Dupont from Connecticut (AHL). ... Giguere stopped two of three shots in 6:39 of action in the first. ... Gustavsson hadn't played since giving up five goals on 44 shots in 6-5 overtime win over St. Louis on Jan. 6.
1 - 0 NYR
2 - 0 NYR
3 - 0 NYR
4 - 0 NYR