NEW YORK (AP) _ The Atlanta Thrashers showed the New York Rangers just how
successful a young team can be. After being swept in a home-and-home series by
the upstart Thrashers, the Rangers started making some changes.
The Rangers were beaten 4-3 Tuesday night by the Thrashers, who also
defeated them Sunday in Atlanta. With the postseason out of reach for a seventh
straight season, New York traded Alex Kovalev to the playoff-bound Montreal
Canadiens after the game.
``He's a good player, but for whatever reason _ whether it was the chemistry
or the mix _ it just didn't work,'' Rangers assistant GM Don Maloney said.
Kovalev had only 23 goals and 32 assists in 90 games back during his second
stint in New York. This could be the first of many deals for the disappointing
Rangers, who have nothing to show for the NHL's highest payroll.
``I have to do better than I did before,'' Kovalev said. ``Right now I don't
want to hurt a team anymore and I guess it's just time for me to move.''
Patrik Stefan had three assists, and Pasi Nurminen made 26 saves for the
Thrashers, 7-0-1 in their last eight against the Rangers. Nurminen is 5-0-1 in
his last six starts versus against New York.
``We played a pretty smart road game,'' Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said.
``Very few turnovers, and once again our penalty killing was huge. We're in a
good groove and we're making a push.''
The Thrashers are 11th in the Eastern Conference, 11 points behind the
eighth-place Islanders for the last postseason spot, Atlanta is trying to reach
the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's five-year history.
Kovalev, traded to Montreal for minor league forward Josef Balej and a
second-round pick in this year's draft, assisted on the Rangers' final goal. By
that time, he was resigned to the fact that he'd probably be dealt for the
second time in a year.
``I expected that they were going to trade me,'' Kovalev said. ``Rumors have
been around for a while about most of the guys, about Leetchy (Brian Leetch)
and the other guys. But I knew that eventually I was going to go somewhere so I
was ready for that.''
Atlanta went ahead 1-0 on Dany Heatley's sixth goal at 6:34 of the first
period. Heatley took a pass from Stefan right in front of Mike Dunham and
slipped a soft shot between his pads.
``We've had some success against this team,'' Heatley said. ``Part of it is
we're playing smart, playing strong defensively and keeping it simple. Pasi
made some big saves. He's been a big part of our team and he played good
The Thrashers took a 2-0 lead at 8:48 on a power-play goal by Ilya
Kovalchuk, who scored his 36th goal on a slap shot from the point five seconds
into the advantage.
Kovalchuk had two goals against New York on Sunday, one game after being
benched for missing a team meeting.
Mark Messier pulled New York within 2-1 at 9:33 with his 16th goal. Messier
snared a loose puck deep in the Atlanta zone, skated out of the left corner and
beat Nurminen to the short side with a sharp-angle shot.
Jussi Markkanen replaced Dunham in goal at that point. Then with New York on
a power play at 17:20, Messier threaded a backhand pass from behind the net to
Chris Simon, who scored his 13th goal from point-blank range.
Daniel Tjarnqvist's short-handed goal at 12:03 of the second period gave
Atlanta a 3-2 lead.
Randy Robitaille was credited with his 10th goal when the rebound of his
shot went in off Rangers defenseman Tom Poti at 9:03 of the third period. The
power-play goal, which proved to be the winner, gave Atlanta a 4-2 lead.
``I knocked it out,'' Markkanen said. ``It was a lack of communication for
both of us. I should have looked better at what Tom was doing and wait for a
little bit because he just went for a guy and I had time to do my thing.''
Dan LaCouture pulled New York within 4-3 just 1:10 later with his fourth
goal, converting a nifty pass from behind the net from Kovalev, who suddenly
finds himself in a postseason race.
``Montreal is a young team and in the playoffs,'' he said. ``I'll get a
chance to go back to the playoffs and try to be successful.''