-- With his team having won only twice in its previous 13 games, fallen out of playoff position and suffered some hard-luck losses along the way, coach Craig Ramsay said his Atlanta Thrashers
"needed something good to happen" on Friday against the New York Rangers
Ramsay more than got his wish -- first in the form of a save by goalie Ondrej Pavelec on Marian Gaborik's third-period penalty shot, then in the form of two late goals by Evander Kane for a 3-2 come-from-behind victory before 15,093 at Philips Arena.
Atlanta snapped a four-game losing streak while prolonging the Rangers' slide to six (0-5-1). Atlanta, which blew a 2-0 lead to lose 5-4 on Monday at Toronto in a game that saw All-Star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien committed a turnover in front of his own net that led to a goal, moved one point ahead of Carolina for eighth place in the Eastern Conference and closed within two points the Rangers. Carolina holds two games in hand on both the Thrashers and Rangers, who have played 57 games.
With 7:36 left in regulation, the Thrashers trailed 2-1 but had a power play after Sean Avery was called for charging Bryan Little. However, Brent Sopel overskated the puck in the neutral zone and Gaborik scooped it up for a breakaway. Sopel hooked Gaborik from behind and Gaborik received a penalty shot. Pavelec (27 saves) flashed his right pad to stop Gaborik, who has 16 goals in 43 games but only one in his last seven games despite two assists on Friday.
"He's a great player," Pavelec said of Gaborik. "A great shooter. You know, I didn't think anything. I just try to stop him and make that big save. If they score it would be 3-1 and it would be really tough to come back and win that game. So I don't really think about who's against me and I just made the save and I'm happy I did and the guys score some goals and win the game."
Ramsay said the play gave his team a big boost.
"That was really huge," he said. "There was a great yell on the bench, even before it happened. I think they had a good feeling about Pavs. Once he made that save, I think everybody jumped. It's amazing playing at home. It's amazing how little things can affect the game directly and I thought that gave us a little extra spark."
From there, the 19-year-old Kane, taken No. 4 in the 2009 Entry Draft, took over. Anthony Stewart tipped Ron Hainsey's point shot and the rebound came to Kane in the slot. He backhanded the puck and it ricocheted off Henrik Lundqvist's blocker into the net for Kane's 15th goal with 5:51 left in regulation.
"It seems like they always got to the rebound," Lundqvist said. "They were hungry around the net. I'm disappointed and frustrated."
Kane then won it on the power play with 2:20 left in the game and Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto off for tripping. With Lundqvist having fallen to the ice to stop Kane's first shot, the left wing skated in alone and beat him with a high shot. Byfuglien took the first shot, earning the primary assist. Fellow All-Star defenseman Toby Enstrom, making his return to the lineup after missing three weeks with a broken finger -- a stretch during which the Thrashers went 1-4-1 -- also earned an assist.
"We've caught some bad breaks," Kane said. "And we were playing well and they get a lead but we stuck to it and we probably had a stretch of about five minutes there where we all over them in their zone and that played a huge role in the game in being able to get those breakdowns and those goals."
Atlanta had struggled to score during much of its run of losing, but had tallied seven goals in its previous two games. The Rangers hadn't scored more than two goals in their last three games and totaled just four during that span.
Fittingly, the game was 1-1 after two periods, but Brandon Dubinsky put the Rangers ahead just 71 seconds into the third. Dubinsky skated without the puck across the slot low into the left circle and one-timed a pass from Gaborik behind Pavelec after some sustained pressure by the Rangers in Atlanta's end.
The Thrashers struck first when Alexander Burmistrov set up a 2-on-1 from inside the lower half of the Rangers' defensive zone. The 19-year-old rookie feathered a pass to Stewart, who received it on his forehand, switched to his backhand and slid it around Lundqvist for his 14th goal at 11:08 of the first period.
The Rangers wasted no time in tying the game once the second period started. Stewart was called for tripping Marc Staal just 17 seconds in -- and nine seconds later, Staal put home a greasy rebound of Gaborik's tough wrist shot to tie the game.
"We were going pretty good and then a few mistakes cost us the game," Staal said. "Those were two big points we wanted very much."
The Rangers appeared to have a playoff berth all but locked up a few weeks ago, but the six-game has left them only three points ahead of ninth-place Carolina.
"We're angry, disappointed and frustrated," said Lundqvist, who made 32 saves. "We have to angle it to something positive and get energy from it."
In the other locker room, Ramsay was hoping the Thrashers could finally break out of a poor stretch of play that has lasted almost a quarter of the season - five wins in 21 games before Friday.
"We found something good to happen," he said. "We fell behind and we fought back. The players didn't quit, they just fought back. … And we looked so good the last couple of games, we weren't rewarded. You have to trust that if you play hard, you play with the system that you will be rewarded and tonight we were rewarded late and it's fun. It's exciting. It's certainly the kind of thing that we think can carry over."