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Rangers-Thrashers Preview @NHL
Rangers-Thrashers Preview

GAME: New York Rangers (14-7-3) at Atlanta Thrashers (8-11-2).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

With nearly a third of the NHL season gone, Jaromir Jagr is making a strong case to be the league's MVP.

Red-hot Jagr looks to help the Atlantic Division-leading New York Rangers to a season-high fourth straight win when they face the Atlanta Thrashers.

Jagr has two goals and six assists in his last three games and leads the league with 37 points. Jagr, also tied for the NHL lead with 20 goals, has an appreciative group of teammates who realize they have a chance to win every game with him in the lineup.

"I equate him (Jagr) to having LeBron (James) or Michael (Jordan), one of the best impact players ever to play," said Rangers goaltender Kevin Weekes. "I can't see how you can think you're ever out of a game when you have someone of that caliber on your team."

Jagr's game-changing impact was evident in the Rangers' 3-2 shootout victory Tuesday over the Buffalo Sabres. Jagr scored New York's first goal, assisted on Michael Nylander's game-tying marker with 4:14 to play in regulation and netted the decisive goal in the shootout after both teams scored the first two rounds.

Jagr, who has 16 goals and 19 assists in 24 career games against the Thrashers, also moved into 18th place on the all-time goals list with his second-period tally. He has 557 goals, one more than Hall of Famer John Bucyk.

While the Rangers have won their last three shootouts, the Thrashers are still trying to win their first following a 3-2 shootout defeat Tuesday at Montreal.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Peter Bondra and Marian Hossa all failed to beat Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore, prompting Thrashers netminder Steve Shields to wonder why they didn't use a similar style they practice.

"I didn't like the way we shot the puck," Shields said. "To be honest with you, I thought the guys should have shot higher. Every shot at team practice is high, I don't know why those weren't!"

The Thrashers also hurt themselves by failing to convert any of their 13 power-play opportunities, including five in the third period.

STANDINGS (through Nov. 23): Rangers - 31 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Thrashers - 18 points, 3rd place, 11 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 20 goals and 37 points; Martin Straka, 20 assists; Darius Kasparaitis, 34 PIM. Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 15 goals; Marc Savard, 23 assists and 29 points; Eric Boulton, 50 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Nov. 23): Rangers - Power play: 18.1 percent (26 for 143), 15th in NHL. Penalty killing: 86.5 percent (135 for 156), 2nd. Thrashers - Power play: 21.3 percent (35 for 164), 5th. Penalty killing: 78.8 percent (94 for 119), 27th.

GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Weekes (6-4-1, 0 SO, 2.69 GAA); Henrik Lundqvist (8-3-2, 1, 2.13). Thrashers - Shields (1-2-1, 3.93); Michael Garnett (1-2-0, 5.21).

SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Oct. 15; Rangers, 5-1. At New York, rookie goaltender Lundqvist, filling in for an injured Weekes, had 28 saves and earned his second NHL victory.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 7-5-1 on the road; Thrashers - 4-5-0 at home.

Associated Press
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