Big guns deliver for Rangers in runaway victory
|Rangers scoring leader Marian Gaborik receives congratulations on the bench after scoring his 36th goal of the season to put the Blueshirts up 2-0 at 8:30 of the first period. Gaborik was on top of his game in finishing with a goal and two assists.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Prior to the Rangers’ very important game Friday night at Phillips Arena against the Atlanta Thrashers, head coach John Tortorella said that he was placing pressure on the Rangers’ top scorers to get the offense going, but that he trusted in his best players to get the job done.
Consider Tortorella rewarded for his faith.
and Vinny Prospal
, the Rangers’ two leading point producers, each recorded three points as the Rangers skated to a 5-2 victory over the Thrashers. The win snapped a four-game winless skid for the Rangers, who are now 2-2-2 in their last six, and extended Atlanta’s losing streak to five in a row.
“They made some big plays on the power play,” Tortorella said of his top guns. “Certainly, as we have talked about, we need them on the board, and they were on the board, and that was big for our win tonight.”
The victory also gives the ninth-place Rangers 69 points in the Eastern Conference standings, three behind the idle Boston Bruins, who own the final playoff spot in the East, and three ahead of the Thrashers, who sit in 11th place.
bounced back from Wednesday’s 6-3 defeat in Newark, in which he was removed from the game in the second period after surrendering five goals, by stopping 29 of 31 shots on Friday to earn his 27th victory of the season.
“It felt like do-or-die almost,” Lundqvist said of the importance of this game. “Mentally, knowing that we were five points behind (the eighth-place Bruins coming into the game), it’s not easy. So this was big for our confidence.”
The Rangers stormed out of the starting gate, scoring three times in a span of 5:37 during the opening period, to secure a 3-0 lead against the struggling Thrashers. And it was several of the top forwards on the team who put their collective stamp on the game early on.
Prospal opened the scoring 7:49 into the first by hammering a slap shot from the top of the left circle past the gloved hand of goaltender Johan Hedberg, who waved at the puck as it settled into the back of the cage. Gaborik helped make the scoring play take shape with a perfectly timed pass that sprung Prospal over the blueline, catching the Thrashers’ skaters off guard.
“We get the opportunity to get the ice-time, to be put out there in the crucial moments,” said Prospal. “It’s always great when you get that trust from your coach and then you give it back.”
Seven seconds after Prospal’s score, Hedberg made his second big gaffe when he fired the puck over the glass and into the stands, subsequently being penalized for delay of the game. Gaborik made him pay for that mistake by converting a slick pass through traffic from Chris Drury
, and the Rangers were up 2-0.
“Gaby has had some injuries after the Olympics, so it was so important to get him a goal and get him going tonight,” said Prospal. “We need him to be scoring every night like this.”
Gaborik’s goal, his team-high 36th of the season and first in his last five games played, came at 8:30, just 41 seconds after Prospal’s game-opening score. Clearly it was a 1-2 punch that had the home team reeling.
Atlanta added to its own misery by taking back-to-back penalties midway through the period -- Pavel Kubina for tripping Prospal at 11:23 and Chris Thorburn for holding Brandon Dubinsky
at 12:19 -- providing the Rangers with 1:04 worth of a 5-on-3 power play.
Although the Rangers did not convert on the two-man advantage, Prospal did come through three seconds after Kubina was sprung from the penalty box. Prospal’s second goal of the night, 17th of the season, was the Rangers’ second on the power play and handed the visitors a three-goal cushion just 13:26 into the contest.
“Our power play really stepped up tonight,” said Lundqvist. “They played really well, moved the puck really well. It’s huge because you could see the guys get confident and play more relaxed.”
The Thrashers, in as desperate a situation as the Rangers are in regards to making the playoffs, began to play with a greater sense of urgency after falling behind 3-0. They finished the period in strong fashion, forcing Lundqvist into making a few tough stops, including an excellent blocker save on Colby Armstrong’s open 2-on-1 chance down-low with 36 seconds left to play in the period.
Carrying that momentum into the second period, the Thrashers recorded seven shots on goal before six minutes had elapsed in the middle stanza, the same total they over the entire first period.
Taking advantage of their first power play opportunity of the night, the Thrashers cut into the Rangers’ lead at 2:33 of the second when Clarke MacArthur potted a pretty 2-on-1 feed from Rich Peverley with only Wade Redden
in position to defend.
The Rangers were upset that the play was allowed to continue after Artem Anisimov
seemed to be tripped in the offensive zone earlier in the sequence. Not only was a penalty not called by the referees, but Anisimov was left in a heap behind Atlanta’s net, allowing the Thrashers, in essence, a 5-on-3 advantage.
Lundqvist stood tall over the next several minutes as the Thrashers pressed with renewed vigor. Playing confidently, and consistently in perfect position, Lundqvist thwarted several good scoring chances by Atlanta, including a quick Ron Hainsey one-timer from between the circles during a 4-on-4 at 8:12.
Michael Del Zotto
restored the Rangers’ three-goal lead, scoring with 2:28 left to play in the second period. Gaborik slid a cross-ice pass onto Del Zotto’s stick and the young defenseman skated with the puck to the bottom of the left circle before wristing a shot towards the net. The puck took a fortuitous bounce for the Rangers when it deflected off Zach Bogosian’s skate and slipped past Hedberg for Del Zotto’s seventh goal of the season, and first since Jan. 9 in Boston, a span of 21 games.
“It was big for us to relax, but also for them it was huge to kill their momentum a little bit with that late goal,” Lundqvist said of Del Zotto’s score.
Atlanta cut into the Rangers’ lead once again when Ron Hainsey scored with 8:34 left in the third period, but the Thrashers did not have enough to get any closer than two goals, even despite a pair of third-period power plays.
closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:06 left on the clock.
“It’s a win and a huge two points,” said Tortorella. “But we’re going to have to be better against some very good teams coming up.”
A big victory secured, the Rangers return to Madison Square Garden to open a three-game homestand on Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Montreal Canadiens then visit MSG on Tuesday night and the St. Louis Blues come into town on Thursday to face the Rangers.
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