|ATL||1||3||1||(0 - 0)||5|
|NYR||1||1||1||(0 - 0)||3|
• PHOTO GALLERY
• RANGERS GAME CENTER
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers mounted a furious third-period comeback, but fell short on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, dropping a 5-3 decision to the visiting Atlanta Thrashers.
Despite outshooting Atlanta in the third by an 18-5 margin, the Rangers could score only one goal, and thus were unable to wipe out their two-goal disadvantage. Maxim Afinogenov scored into the empty net with 12.8 seconds left to ice the game for Atlanta.
“We were slow the first half of that game with our reactions,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Then I think we just worked ourselves out of it.”
Trailing 4-2 in the third period, the Rangers clawed their way back into the game. Brian Boyle scored his second goal of the season at 6:18 to cut the Blueshirts’ deficit to one.
Christopher Higgins started the scoring play with a neat pass to Ales Kotalik on the rush in the offensive zone. Kotalik sent a booming shot on net that was kicked out by Thrashers goalie Johan Hedberg, but Boyle charged hard through the slot to fire the rebound into the back of the cage to pull the Rangers within 4-3.
The Rangers came within inches of tying the game with 8:48 left to play in regulation. Skating on the power play, Kotalik sent a hard shot from just inside the blueline towards the net. The puck deflected off Atlanta defenseman Pavel Kubina and ricocheted off the post. Vinny Prospal then sent the rebound into a diving Hedberg, and the Thrashers retained their one-goal lead.
“It’s really tough to come back, especially against a team like this because they have been playing really well on the road,” said Prospal, who logged a whopping 27:52 worth of ice-time.
Marian Gaborik, Enver Lisin, Wade Redden, and Higgins were among the Rangers with prime opportunities to tie the game in the third for the Rangers. Hedberg, though, turned in an impressive display of goaltending to preserve Atlanta’s slim lead, finishing with 33 saves.
“I thought it was sloppy on both ends, some real bad ice tonight with the puck bouncing everywhere, and a lot of physical mistakes due to that, I think,” said Higgins. “They had their share. We had our share. But they put in more off those mistakes than we did.”
The Rangers had been flirting with disaster for much of the first two periods of play, but the brilliant play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist helped keep the team in the game despite numerous defensive lapses and some poor decisions by his teammates.
However, the Thrashers scored twice in a 25-second span late in the second period to open up a 4-2 lead, finally taking advantage of the numerous scoring chances that the Rangers were allowing them.
Ilya Kovalchuk -- returning to the Atlanta lineup after missing six games with a broken foot - snapped a wicked left wing snap shot over the left shoulder of Lundqvist with 2:19 remaining in the second to hand the Thrashers their third lead of the night. The goal was Kovalchuk’s tenth in nine games this season, and was Atlanta’s second on the power play in this game.
Just 25 seconds later, talented rookie Evander Kane took advantage of a breakdown in the Rangers’ end to score his fourth of the season. It was the second point on the night for the 18-year-old Kane, who was the fourth overall selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
The back-to-back goals were a tough break for the Rangers, who had pulled even at 15:28 of the second on Gaborik’s power play goal. Gaborik had received a Michael Del Zotto pass in the slot and quickly whipped a shot that beat Hedberg to the glove side for his team-high 13th goal.
“We put ourselves in a jam because of penalties,” said Tortorella. “We tie the game 2-2, and we’re getting back into it, crawling back into it, and then take another penalty.”
At that point of the game, the Rangers had to feel fortunate to be tied on the scoreboard. Atlanta had a string of breakaways and odd-man scoring chances over the first two periods, but Lundqvist turned aside one after another in a show of excellence between the pipes.
In the first period alone, the Thrashers had six of their 10 shots come either during odd-man rushes or breakaways. Atlanta scored on the first of those opportunities just 19 seconds into the game -- with Colby Armstrong potting a perfect centering feed from Kane, who had burst past Michal Rozsival on left wing -- but Lundqvist denied the rest the remainder of the opening stanza.
“I thought we were slow in reacting,” said Tortorella. “First shift of the game, two-on-two, and both their guys skate right by our D.”
At 8:16 of the first, Atlanta’s Christoph Schubert slipped behind the Rangers’ defense, accepted a pass, and broke in on Lundqvist, who smothered the in-close scoring chance. Thirty seconds later, Lundqvist robbed Afinogenov with the left pad after he, too, got in behind the defense.
Later in the first Kovalchuk was wide-open on left wing for a 15-foot one-timer during a 4-on-3 Thrashers’ power play. Lundqvist, though, smartly moved across the crease and smothered the booming shot.
And with 40 seconds remaining in the opening period, Lundqvist caught a break when Afinogenov missed an open net off a 2-on-0 feed from Kovalchuk.
“They’re so good in transition, and they have some great creative offensive players,” Boyle said of the Thrashers. “Hank played great and made some unbelievable stops, but eventually they are going to score because they have some real gifted players.”
Somehow the Rangers managed to escape the first period with the score tied 1-1. A gorgeous Gaborik end-to-end rush on right wing set up an Artem Anisimov tap in goal at 4:08 to pull the Blueshirts even.
“You learn that from when you’re seven years old, go hard to the net, and we got two goals off of that tonight,” said Higgins. “Those are the types of goals a team needs to win. We didn’t win tonight, but you score two goals like that, you’re going to win more often than not.”
The Rangers actually had an excellent chance to take the lead at 11:59 of the first when Del Zotto, who had two assists on the night, skated into a loose puck in the slot and proceeded to slam a shot off the crossbar.
Instead, it was Atlanta that grabbed the lead. Rich Peverley, in the midst of a three-point night, hammered home the rebound of a Kovalchuk power play slap shot at 4:02 of the second period. That 2-1 Atlanta lead held up until Gaborik scored his power play goal later in the same stanza.
The Rangers return to action on Saturday afternoon when they skate against the Senators in Ottawa.
|Colby Armstrong (3) ASST: Evander Kane (4), Rich Peverley (11)|
1 - 0 ATL
|Artem Anisimov (4) ASST: Marian Gaborik (11), Michael Del Zotto (10)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Rich Peverley (8) ASST: Nik Antropov (14), Ilya Kovalchuk (2)|
2 - 1 ATL
|PPG - Marian Gaborik (13) ASST: Michael Del Zotto (11), Ales Kotalik (10)|
2 - 2 Tie
|PPG - Ilya Kovalchuk (10) ASST: Vyacheslav Kozlov (6), Todd White (4)|
3 - 2 ATL
|Evander Kane (4) ASST: Rich Peverley (12)|
4 - 2 ATL
|Brian Boyle (2) ASST: Ales Kotalik (11), Chris Higgins (3)|
4 - 3 ATL
|EN - Maxim Afinogenov (4) ASST: Ilya Kovalchuk (3), Nik Antropov (15)|
5 - 3 ATL
|Sean Avery Cross checking against Mark Popovic|
|Donald Brashear Fighting (maj) against Eric Boulton|
|Eric Boulton Fighting (maj) against Donald Brashear|
|Ryan Callahan Fighting (maj) against Zach Bogosian|
|Zach Bogosian Fighting (maj) against Ryan Callahan|
|Christoph Schubert Hooking against Marian Gaborik|
|Brian Boyle Hi-sticking against Toby Enstrom|
|Todd White Hi-sticking against Matt Gilroy|
|Marc Staal Hooking against Ilya Kovalchuk|
|Michael Del Zotto Slashing against Colby Armstrong|
|Colby Armstrong Tripping against Artem Anisimov|
|Brian Boyle Tripping against Mark Popovic|
|Zach Bogosian Tripping against Enver Lisin|
|Christoph Schubert Holding against Chris Higgins|
|Rich Peverley Hooking against Michael Del Zotto|
|Michael Del Zotto Diving|
|SA: 36||TOI: 59:56|
|Saves: 33||EV: 26 - 28|
|PIM: 0||PP: 7 - 8|
|SV%: .917||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 26||TOI: 59:06|
|Saves: 22||EV: 18 - 20|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 6|
|SV%: .846||SH: 0 - 0|