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Rangers' lead short-lived in Atlanta

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers forward Marian Gaborik had five shots on goal and played a very strong game on Friday night in Atlanta, but he was stopped on this third-period penalty shot by Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec.

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By Jim Cerny,

On Friday night in Atlanta, the Rangers found a way to grab a third-period lead, but it still was not enough for them to snap out of a winless rut.

Instead of an important road victory, the hard-working Rangers dropped a 3-2 decision to the Thrashers as Evander Kane scored a pair of goals in the closing minutes of the final period.

The Rangers have now lost four games in a row and are winless in six (0-5-1). They remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, two points ahead of eighth-place Atlanta.

“Obviously it’s frustrating,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “We were going pretty good, but just a few mistakes cost us a game and two big points. We wanted this game real bad, but we didn’t get it done.”

Brandon Dubinsky’s goal just 71 seconds into the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and gave the Rangers, not only their first lead of the game, but incredibly their first lead in 10 days. The Rangers had played a stretch of 255:35 against five different opponents since their last lead, which they held against the Penguins back on Feb. 1.

Dubinsky cut across the slot and received a slick pass from Marian Gaborik near the left circle and proceeded to whip a shot across the grain and past Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec at 1:11. The goal was Dubinsky’s team-high 19th of the season and his second in as many games.

Six minutes later, the Rangers had a prime opportunity to increase their lead to two goals when Gaborik was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked from behind by Atlanta’s Brent Sopel on a shorthanded breakaway.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist makes one of his 32 saves on Friday at Atlanta. Lundqvist was making his first start on the road since Jan. 24.
Gaborik -- in the midst of a sterling performance on Friday night -- made a deke and tried to beat Pavelec with a forehand shot, but the Thrashers’ goalie made a hugely important right-pad save to keep the score 2-1.

“He left the pad out there and I was too close to put it up and over,” said Gaborik, who assisted on both Rangers’ goals and led the team with five shots on goal. “I just have to score there, that’s the bottom line. If it’s in, it’s 3-1 and the game is totally different.”

That stop by Pavelec proved to be game-saving when Kane converted a rebound past the sprawling Henrik Lundqvist with 5:51 left in regulation to tie the game.

Three minutes later, Kane scored off another rebound -- this one during a power play with Michael Del Zotto in the penalty box and mere seconds after Lundqvist made two sensational saves -- to give the Thrashers a 3-2 lead with 2:20 remaining to play. It proved to be the game-deciding score.

“It seems like they always got to the rebound,” Lundqvist said of the Thrashers. “They were hungry around the net. I’m disappointed and frustrated.”

The Rangers erased a 1-0 deficit by scoring early in the second period, and that 1-1 tie held up after 40 minutes of play.

Trailing 1-0, the Rangers were awarded a power play just 17 seconds into the middle period when Anthony Stewart tripped Staal. Nine seconds after that Staal made Atlanta pay for that penalty when he converted a rebound of Gaborik’s shot for a power-play goal.

After Vinny Prospal won the offensive-zone faceoff, the Rangers worked the puck to Gaborik in the slot. His snap shot was knocked down by Pavelec, but Staal skated through the low slot and was able to bang the loose puck into the cage for his seventh goal, and first in 25 games.

It was also a boon to the Rangers power play which had entered Friday’s game with just three goals in its last 31 man-up opportunities.

“We got a goal and got more pressure and better puck movement and more rebounds, I thought,” Staal said of the Rangers’ power play, which was 1-for-3 on the night. “Hopefully this is a sign of good things moving ahead.”

Rangers forward Brandon Prust and Atlanta's Eric Boulton dropped the gloves just over six minutes into the first period for the game's only fisticuffs.
Staal’s goal offset Stewart’s game-opening tally 11:08 into the first period. On that play Kane came away with the puck after Rangers’ defenseman Matt Gilroy fell down at center ice. Kane’s head-man pass to Alex Burmistrov created a 2-on-1 opportunity for the Thrashers, with Stewart cashing in his 14th goal of the season.

The score by Stewart marked the fourth consecutive game -- and eighth in the previous nine -- in which the Rangers surrendered the first goal, forcing the hard-working visitors into playing from behind once again until Staal’s goal tied things up.

The Rangers showed plenty of jump and energy in the opening period, jamming the crease for excellent scoring chances by Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Mats Zuccarello, and Derek Stepan which were all denied by a sharp Pavelec.

Dubinsky and Sean Avery also had prime chances to score on separate partial breakaways in the first period, but Pavelec made strong saves on those, as well, as he finished with 13 saves in the opening period and 27 for the entire game.

“It’s frustrating,” said Gaborik. “We really need to pull together, and keep going together. We did a lot of good things, so we have to remain positive.”

The Rangers will look to snap their skid on Sunday afternoon when they host the Penguins at Madison Square Garden.

“We have to angle all of our anger and disappointment and frustration into something positive as we go into the next one,” said Lundqvist.
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