|ATL||0||0||0||0||1 (2 - 2)||2|
|NYR||0||0||0||0||0 (1 - 3)||1|
• Graves Joins Legends in MSG Rafters
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
A night that began with a joyous ceremony honoring Rangers legend Adam Graves ended in frustrating fashion as the Blueshirts were defeated by the Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 in a game decided by the shootout on Tuesday evening at Madison Square Garden.
It was the third straight loss for the Rangers, who forced overtime on a Markus Naslund goal with 10.7 seconds remaining in regulation.
“We wanted to win,” said Naslund. “We had a big talk about it before the game that we wanted to make it a special night for (Adam) and for the fans. Unfortunately we couldn’t come through.”
Naslund led off the shootout by beating Atlanta netminder Kari Lehtonen with a backhand shot from in tight. However, Lehtonen, who made 39 saves on the night, denied Nikolai Zherdev and Fredrik Sjostrom in the next two rounds, while his Atlanta teammates Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov both fired nasty forehand shots past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to hand the Thrashers the victory.
“As a goalie, you want to come up big in the end there, but I didn’t tonight,” said Lundqvist, who finished with 21 saves. “It’s a little frustrating for me because I want to be there to help us get the extra point.”
Trailing 1-0 with the clock winding down in regulation and Lundqvist pulled for the extra attacker, the Rangers pushed the puck deep behind the Thrashers net. Scott Gomez collected it there and zipped a pass towards the slot just past the stick of Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk, who seconds before had fired a shot towards the empty Rangers net and had hit the post.
Naslund accepted Gomez’s pass between the circles and ripped a shot past Lehtonen with 10.7 seconds left in regulation for his team-leading 16th goal of the season, and the Rangers had pulled even. They also had dodged their second consecutive shutout, having been just blanked by the Boston Bruins 1-0 on Saturday afternoon.
Atlanta had snapped a scoreless tie 6:26 into the third period when Joe Motzko, who was just recently recalled from the minor leagues, netted his first goal of the season. Motzko slipped in behind Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and deposited a Marty Reasoner pass from the side of the cage in slam dunk fashion.
Ironically, Motzko’s last NHL goal was also scored against the Rangers back on December 12, 2007.
The Rangers were handed an opportunity to tie the game when Atlanta’s Colin Stuart was penalized for hooking at 11:19, but the Thrashers killed off the two-minute disadvantage. Both Naslund and Brandon Dubinsky came tantalizingly close to scoring during the power play, but both pushed their rebound tries just wide of the net during scrambles in front of Lehtonen.
Though he misfired during that power play, Naslund was perfect when he needed to be in the final seconds of the third period to assure the Rangers a point in the standings. The Blueshirts now sit in fifth place with 63 points, one behind the Montreal Canadiens, who defeated the Penguins on Tuesday.
“We almost went two full games without scoring, and at this stage of the season, that’s tough when you need every point you can get,” said Naslund. “We have to score more. Everyone has to take a look in the mirror to see what they can do better.”
Prior to the game, the Rangers organization saluted Graves by retiring his No. 9 sweater. It was raised to The Garden rafters where No. 9 now resides next to Ed Giacomin’s No. 1, Brian Leetch’s No. 2, Rod Gilbert’s No. 7, Mark Messier’s No. 11, and Mike Richter’s No. 35. All five of those former Ranger greats took part in the ceremony as did Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate, who will have their jerseys retired later this month.
“You look at the guys walking out on the ice there, and it’s pretty special stuff,” observed Rangers head coach Tom Renney. “There’s such a great tradition here as an Original Six team. As usual it’s a privilege to be here watching it. And it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
The Rangers had the better of the play in the scoreless first period, out-chancing Atlanta by a wide margin and outshooting the Thrashers 13-6. In addition, Zherdev rang a left wing shot off the near post only 27 seconds into play.
Lehtonen was sharp over the first 20 minutes of play. He showed quick reflexes in making a juggling save on Michal Rozsival’s shot off a Rangers’ face-off win at 11:33, and a bit more than a minute later he turned in an excellent left pad save on Dubinsky’s weaving shot after coming out of the right wing corner with the puck. Dubinsky fell victim to Lehtonen again with 19.4 seconds remaining in the opening period when his wide-open power play one-timer from the bottom of the right wing circle was somehow gobbled up by the Finnish goaltender.
Defenseman Erik Reitz, who was in the lineup with Dmitri Kalinin resting a sore back, made an immediate impact in his Rangers debut. Reitz crushed Reasoner into the boards in front of the Thrashers bench with a thunderous check 5:18 into the first, and then dropped the gloves and fought Nathan Oystrick much to the delight of The Garden Faithful.
The Rangers followed Reitz’s lead with Ryan Callahan, Aaron Voros, and Wade Redden all delivering big hits over the first two periods. And the fourth line of Blair Betts, Colton Orr, and Sjostrom provided tremendous energy, along with prime scoring opportunities by Orr in the first period and by Betts in the second.
Despite their physical play, the Rangers were held off the scoreboard in the second period, as were the Thrashers. The Rangers fired eight shots at Lehtonen in the middle stanza, and Atlanta once again countered with six at Lundqvist.
Stymied at even strength, the Thrashers generated their best scoring chances during their three unsuccessful power plays in the middle stanza. Lundqvist robbed Colby Armstrong during a Thrashers power play at the 2:25 mark of the second, making a sensational glove save on a wicked rising wrist shot. And at 10:02 Lundqvist flashed out a lightning quick left pad to deny Kovalchuk’s power play slap shot.
At the other end of the ice, the Rangers did not generate as many quality scoring chances as they did in the first, and several of the ones they did have ended with misfired shots wide or over the net.
“It’s two points we wanted, that’s for sure,” said Renney. “The fact is that we outshot this team significantly, their goaltender was great, and we lost in a skills contest.”
Looking to regroup, the Rangers will have two days of practice before skating against the Stars in Dallas on Friday night, looking to pull out of their 0-2-1 slide.
|Joseph Motzko (1) ASST: Marty Reasoner (9), Colby Armstrong (10)|
1 - 0 ATL
|Markus Naslund (16) ASST: Scott Gomez (26), Chris Drury (17)|
1 - 1 Tie
|1||M. Naslund||B. Little|
|2||N. Zherdev||V. Kozlov|
|Nathan Oystrick Fighting (maj) against Erik Reitz|
|Erik Reitz Fighting (maj) against Nathan Oystrick|
|Mathieu Schneider Cross checking against Aaron Voros|
|Dan Girardi Hooking against Vyacheslav Kozlov|
|Chris Drury Hi-sticking against Zach Bogosian|
|Aaron Voros Slashing against Eric Boulton|
|Colin Stuart Hooking against Markus Naslund|
|SA: 40||TOI: 65:00|
|Saves: 39||EV: 35 - 36|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 3|
|SV%: .975||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 22||TOI: 64:14|
|Saves: 21||EV: 17 - 18|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 4|
|SV%: .955||SH: 0 - 0|