|NYR||0||0||0||0||0 (0 - 6)||4|
|ATL||0||0||0||0||1 (1 - 6)||5|
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers let a three-goal lead evaporate, and then were shut out over six rounds of a nerve-wracking shootout, to drop a disappointing 5-4 decision to the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday evening at Philips Arena.
Despite the loss, the Rangers did earn one point in the standings, and they remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 87 points.
With both teams having been blanked over the first five rounds of the shootout, Atlanta’s Todd White finally broke the ice in the sixth round by roofing a forehand shot over the gloved hand of Rangers’ goaltender Stephen Valiquette.
Scott Gomez had the final chance to extend the shootout for the Rangers, but his forehand shot was kicked out by the left pad of Thrashers’ goalie Johan Hedberg, and the loss was finalized for the visitors.
“Playing a loose team like this is not the easiest thing to deal with, and a lot of teams have had troubles dealing with Atlanta recently,” said Valiquette, who made 26 saves in regulation and overtime before stopping five of six shots in the shootout. “We had our problems and our difficulties because they were playing so loose, while we’re pressing and trying to get out points.”
“I think we were fortunate to get a point, and we’re very fortunate to get that,” stated Rangers head coach John Tortorella.
The Rangers let a 4-1 lead late in the second period slip away, and the Thrashers eventually pulled even on White’s goal with 6:50 remaining in regulation.
Ilya Kovalchuk, Atlanta’s superstar forward, had a hand in all three goals. He scored his 39th goal on a gorgeous wraparound with 21 seconds left in the second period to start the Thrashers comeback and pull his club to within 4-2.
“You never like giving those up late in a period, but we’re up two goals and feeling pretty good coming out of that second period,” said defenseman Wade Redden. “We had chances still to put it away up 4-2, but didn’t do it. And that came back to haunt us.”
Then just 3:30 into the third period, Kovalchuk set up Colby Armstrong, who bounced the puck off the back of Valiquette and over the goal line to make the score 4-3. And Kovalchuk’s power move around the Rangers net and subsequent centering feed set up White’s tying goal late in the third.
“Kovalchuk was on his game tonight, and he was, I guess, the difference maker in the game,” said Valiquette. “He was better than all of our guys and myself, certainly.”
Despite Kovalchuk’s heroics, the Rangers nearly pulled out a victory in regulation time, but Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan were both robbed on point-blank scoring chances with less than a minute remaining. And the Rangers almost pulled the game out in the five-minute overtime, but Hedberg made huge saves on both Morris and Scott Gomez.
Valiquette responded with his biggest save of the night when, with 1:35 left in OT, he denied White’s chip shot off a pretty Kovalchuk feed following a Rangers’ giveaway.
After failing to score on their first six power plays, the Rangers struck twice on the man-advantage in a span of 1:25 midway through the second period to snap a tie and grab a 3-1 lead.
Skating with a 4-on-3 advantage, the Rangers capitalized at 11:04 when Nik Antropov deflected Drury’s left-wing shot past Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg for his 26th goal of the season. Antropov also earned his 300th career point on the play.
The Rangers struck yet again on the power play -- this time during a more conventional 5-on-4 -- and once more a milestone career point was part of the scoring equation. Valiquette caught the Thrashers on a change and whipped a perfect long pass from his own zone all the way to Drury, waiting at Atlanta’s blueline. Drury skated in a few strides and ripped a slap shot past Hedberg to the stick side for his 19th goal at 12:29 of the second.
The assist earned by Valiquette on the goal was the first point of his National Hockey League career.
Drury earned his third point of the period, and helped the Rangers up their lead to 4-1, when he assisted on Markus Naslund’s goal at 17:59. Drury powered to the net on right wing, and fired an eight-foot shot on net that was stopped by Hedberg. As Drury ended up behind the net after taking his shot, Naslund swooped in to jam the puck under Hedberg and over the goal line for his 23rd goal of the season.
At the point of Naslund’s goal, it seemed as though the Rangers had themselves a comfortable lead. But Kovalchuk’s goal late in the period gave Atlanta some life, and cut the Rangers’ lead to 4-2.
For the second consecutive game, Nikolai Zherdev scored a goal late in the first period to give the Rangers an important 1-0 lead. On Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild, Zherdev opened the scoring with just 4.4 seconds left before the first intermission. On Thursday his goal came with 1:26 remaining in the first.
Zherdev created the scoring play by carrying the puck from right wing, around the Atlanta cage, and out to left wing, before dishing it to Paul Mara. Zherdev then skated towards the slot, where he collected the rebound of Mara’s shot and fired it past Kari Lehtonen, who started in goal for Atlanta before leaving after 20 minutes of play with an upper body injury. It was Zherdev’s 23rd goal of the season, and fourth in the past five games.
Valiquette made the lead stand up to the first intermission by making a pair of terrific saves in the final minute of the opening stanza. With 47 seconds to go, Valiquette stoned Marty Reasoner from 15 feet out. And right before the buzzer sounded he made a solid pad stop on Bryan Little’s dazzling, spinning, backhanded shot.
In all, Valiquette made 14 saves in the first period, several of which came in the game’s wild and crazy opening minutes. Not only did both teams have quite a few good scoring opportunities within the first five minutes, the Rangers and Thrashers also combined to take five minor penalties and have one apparent goal each wiped off the scoreboard.
Just three minutes into the game, White poked the puck free from under Valiquette’s pads and over the goal line, but the referee had clearly blown his whistle before he had done so, negating the apparent score.
Less than two minutes later, the Rangers thought that they had grabbed a 1-0 lead by scoring a 4-on-3 power play goal. However, after an extremely lengthy video review, it was ruled that Drury had batted the rebound of Gomez’s shot into the net with a high-stick thus nullifying the original on-ice call by the officials.
Although Zherdev would eventually give the Rangers that 1-0 lead -- and the club would increase its advantage to 4-1 -- the visitors never were really quite in sync all night against a hungry Thrashers squad that is relishing its role as spoiler, sitting well out of the playoff picture itself.
“What’s difficult in the NHL I find is just to turn it on with a switch whenever you want to,” said Valiquette. “That’s got to be something you prepare for all day, and unfortunately for us tonight we didn’t seem like we were ready to go right from the first period.”
|Nikolay Zherdev (23) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (28), Fredrik Sjostrom (5)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Vyacheslav Kozlov (23) ASST: Rich Peverley (25), Toby Enstrom (22)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Nik Antropov (26) ASST: Chris Drury (30), Derek Morris (10)|
2 - 1 NYR
|PPG - Chris Drury (19) ASST: Steve Valiquette (1)|
3 - 1 NYR
|Markus Naslund (23) ASST: Chris Drury (31), Derek Morris (11)|
4 - 1 NYR
|Ilya Kovalchuk (39) ASST: Todd White (47), Anssi Salmela (4)|
4 - 2 NYR
|Colby Armstrong (18) ASST: Ilya Kovalchuk (45), Anssi Salmela (5)|
4 - 3 NYR
|Todd White (21) ASST: Ilya Kovalchuk (46), Colby Armstrong (14)|
4 - 4 Tie
|1||B. Little||M. Naslund|
|2||V. Kozlov||N. Antropov|
|3||I. Kovalchuk||C. Drury|
|4||E. Perrin||R. Callahan|
|5||R. Peverley||F. Sjostrom|
|6||T. White||S. Gomez|
|Paul Mara Hi-sticking against Colby Armstrong|
|Bryan Little Tripping against Marc Staal|
|Ilya Kovalchuk Interference against Marc Staal|
|Ron Hainsey Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Markus Naslund Too many men/ice - bench|
|Sean Avery Interference on goalkeeper against Kari Lehtonen|
|Eric Perrin Hooking against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Ryan Callahan Tripping against Toby Enstrom|
|Nathan Oystrick Interference against Markus Naslund|
|Marty Reasoner Hi stick - double minor against Chris Drury|
|Markus Naslund Slashing against Toby Enstrom|
|Vyacheslav Kozlov Roughing against Ryan Callahan|
|Brandon Dubinsky Roughing against Garnet Exelby|
|Garnet Exelby Roughing against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Ilya Kovalchuk Hi-sticking against Sean Avery|
|Jim Slater Hi-sticking against Derek Morris|
|SA: 30||TOI: 64:57|
|Saves: 26||EV: 22 - 26|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 2|
|SV%: .867||SH: 2 - 2|
|SA: 17||TOI: 45:00|
|Saves: 14||EV: 9 - 10|
|PIM: 0||PP: 5 - 7|
|SV%: .824||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 10||TOI: 20:00|
|Saves: 9||EV: 7 - 8|
|PIM: 0||PP: 1 - 1|
|SV%: .900||SH: 1 - 1|