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Thrashers 2, Rangers 1, OT @NHLdotcom

ATLANTA (AP) -Johan Hedberg was frequently serenaded with chants of "Moose" from the Philips Arena crowd, and he loved every minute of it.

Hedberg stopped 38 shots and Alexei Zhitnik scored the game-winner with a slap shot on the power play at 2:18 of overtime, lifting Atlanta to a 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night and giving the Thrashers their sixth straight home win.

"I hope we can keep it going because this crowd is pretty awesome," Hedberg said. "Come playoff time, this is going to be a tough building to come into."

The Thrashers, with 86 points, strengthened their hold on third place in the Eastern Conference and took a four-point lead in the Southeast Division over Tampa Bay, which lost 3-2 to Buffalo.

Teammates have called Hedberg "Moose" since 2001, when he played in all 18 of Pittsburgh's playoff games and helped the Penguins reach the Eastern Conference finals. Because of his time with the Manitoba Moose of IHL, Hedberg earned the nickname easily. It followed him to Vancouver in 2003-04 and to Dallas last year.

Hedberg started for the first time since Feb. 22 so Atlanta coach Bob Hartley could give Kari Lehtonen the night off.

"Moose was unbelievable in net," Zhitnik said. "He stopped a couple from two feet, unbelievable saves."

Matt Cullen's holding penalty gave Atlanta the one-man advantage 1:31 into the extra period.

The Rangers, who had gone 3-1-1 in their last five games, are among five teams chasing the final two playoff spots in the East. Carolina and the New York Islanders are tied for seventh with 78 points, and the Rangers pulled into a tie with Toronto for ninth one point back. Montreal is in 10th with 76 points.

"We have to stay the course," New York coach Tom Renney said. "One thing we do not want to do is get frustrated. Bottom line is we have to keep working here and start getting two points instead of one."

New York had Blair Betts, Michal Rozsival and Marek Malik trying to buffer Henrik Lundqvist when Zhitnik fired from the point to sail the puck under the goalie's right pads.

"That's a game we should win," Lundqvist said. "Still a good point. We had our chance to get two."

Sean Avery's 13th goal gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead with 53 seconds left in the first. Michael Nylander, credited with his 49th assist, passed from the goal line to the right circle, where Avery used a wrister to beat Johan Hedberg.

Marian Hossa, who had an 11-game points streak snapped in a 3-2 loss at Philadelphia on Thursday, tied the game 2:51 into the second. With Ilya Kovalchuk storming from the penalty box and trying a slap shot from the right circle, Hossa deflected the puck past Lundqvist's glove side for his 41st goal.

"I have to stay sharp and not allow any mistakes," said Lundqvist, who dropped to 29-22-6 after making 20 saves. "Hopefully our power play can step up and get some goals."

For Hedberg, who improved to 7-4-2, the performance was impressive, but he knows Lehtonen will be in net when the East-leading Buffalo Sabres visit Sunday.

"I felt pretty calm from the beginning of the game," Hedberg said. "When we play a defensive effort like we did tonight, it really helps the goaltender out."

Lehtonen, the No. 2 overall pick of 2002, is 31-21-8 this season, but Hartley wouldn't hesitate to use Hedberg again.

"Just the way he practices and prepares," Hartley said, "I can tell you it's quite a treat for a coach to have."

Notes: Before Zhitnik scored, the Rangers had killed 98 of their last 110 penalties over the last 28 games for an 89.1 percentage. ... Atlanta has killed 51 of its last 57 penalties over the last 13 games. ... The injury-depleted Rangers survived a scare midway through the first when Kovalchuk accidentally hit Rozsival in the jaw with his stick. Rozsival fell face-first to the ice and needed a couple of minutes before he could skate to the bench. He returned, however, and finished with a team-high ice time of 30:47.

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