Sean Avery fires one of his nine shots on goal in the Rangers' 2-1 win over Atlanta on Saturday afternoon. Avery's efforts prompted head coach Tom Renney to say: "People are getting an appreciation for how good a hockey player this guy is."
|Watch the Goals From Game 2 ||WMP |
|Shanahan on the Rangers' Degree of Patience ||WMP |
|Lundqvist on Taking a 2-0 Series Lead ||WMP |
|Avery on the Game-Winning Goal ||WMP |
|Renney on the Rangers' Current Mindset ||WMP |
|Jagr Discusses the Win over Atlanta ||WMP |
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Twenty-four years had passed since the Rangers last took a 2-0 playoff series lead on the road, but on Saturday afternoon at Atlanta's Philips Arena, Sean Avery and Brendan Shanahan made sure that the 2007 playoff run was going to be an extra special one.
Avery scored in the first period and then set up Shanahan for the game-winning goal with just 4:01 remaining in regulation for a 2-1 victory that sent the Rangers back to New York in the driver's seat of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Thrashers. Games 3 and 4 of the series will be played at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
"We went to war and we needed to, because Atlanta was certainly desperate and played with the urgency you would expect," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "They're a good team, and we have to really pay attention to how we have to play if we're going to beat them."
Shanahan's game-winner came when he rifled a shot from the slot area just outside the left faceoff circle past an out-of-position Johan Hedberg. The Atlanta goalie had been reacting to a possible shot from Avery in the right circle, but the Rangers' sparkplug alertly spotted a wide-open Shanahan directly across the ice and wasted no time in feeding him the puck.
While Shanahan's shot delivered the win, it was the play by Avery that made it possible.
"He was terrific," Renney said of Avery. "Pound for pound I don't know if there's a more engaging guy in the game than this guy right here."
From Avery-to-Shanahan on, it was just a question of holding off the Thrashers for the final four minutes. The Rangers managed to do that without putting any undue pressure on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who finished with 28 saves, as the Blueshirts outshot the Thrashers 39-28.
"It feels really good (to be up 2-0). I think we played great in a tough game ... a really good hockey game," said Lundqvist. "It was really intense, especially in the third period when they tied the game. You just have to stay focused and keep playing your game, and sooner or later you'll get your chance. Shanny nailed it, and it's a great win for us."
There was a frantic final minute when the Thrashers got a late power play and pulled Hedberg for an extra attacker, but the Rangers had already been through that in winning Game 1 on Thursday, and they were able to keep Atlanta from mounting anything like the pressure they cam up with two nights earlier. In the final seconds, the tension between the teams hit a breaking point, as a series of penalties were called, but even in that scenario, the Rangers kept their cool to skate off with the win.
What made Shanahan's winner even more remarkable was that it came in front of a packed house of Thrashers fans who were raising the decibel levels to the highest point possible after Ilya Kovalchuk had tied the game early in the third period. His goal had come after a dominating performance by Lundqvist, who flirted with a shutout for a good part of the game.
Lundqvist wasted little time making his presence felt in the final period, as he made back-to-back saves against Keith Tkachuk and Scott Mellanby just 71 seconds into the third.
Nearly four minutes later, Lundqvist came up with another big pad stop on a long shot by Greg de Vries that sailed through traffic from just inside the blueline. He then denied de Vries again from the right point at 4:20 and held his ground as the defense in front of him cleared the rebound away from two charging Atlanta players.
Kovalchuk would eventually break through when he converted a pass from Keith Tkachuk, who spotted his linemate open in the right circle while controlling the puck behind the net to Lundqvist's left. Tkachuk fed a perfect pass to Kovalchuk, who one-timed a shot through traffic and just inside the right post at 5:35.
"I never saw the puck," said Lundqvist. "It was a great play by them, but we stayed poised and focused and got back in the game."
It was the first playoff goal for Kovalchuk, a former No. 1 overall draft choice, and it certainly woke up the hometown fans, who came alive with a degree of noise that lived up to the team's "Unleash the Fury" slogan.
The Rangers nearly regained the lead just seconds after Marcel Hossa went off for hooking at 6:52. Avery was sprung on a breakaway and fired a blast at Hedberg from the slot -- one of Avery's game-high nine shots. The Atlanta goalie had trouble stopping the puck, but was able to reach behind himself to avoid letting it trickle into the net.
"He was intense as always," Lundqvist said of Avery. "It was great to see. He really gets some of their players to think about something else besides their game, and it's huge for us to have a couple of guys to give some energy. He took some big hits for the team tonight."
Renney agreed that Avery's willingness to absorb punishment for the sake of the team played a big role in inspiring others, but also pointed out that the 27-year-old forward's offensive skill was just as important to the team's success since acquiring him back on Feb. 5.
"I think what's happening now is people are getting an appreciation for how good a hockey player this guy is," Renney said.
Later in the period, the Rangers got a chance to work on their own power play when Pascal Dupuis drew a delay-of-game penalty for clearing the puck over the glass from his own zone at 12:04. The Rangers managed heavy pressure during that man-advantage and nearly scored as time was expiring on a crafty centering pass from Nylander along the left boards to Petr Prucha in front. Hedberg, however, managed to break up the play.
From that point on, it was tight-checking playoff hockey for eight more minutes until Shanahan found the net.
The Rangers were on top of their game through the first two periods, and a little help from the wacky glass inside the Thrashers zone didn't hurt either, as the Blueshirts completed the opening 40 minutes with a 1-0 lead over their hosts.
Avery's first career playoff goal was the difference for the Rangers through two periods, resulting from a fluke bounce off the left boards that had a seeing-eye for Atlanta's net. And while Avery supplied the offense, the key to the Rangers' success through the first two periods was Lundqvist, who had eight saves in both the first and second periods.
Through two periods, Lundqvist had outdueled fellow Swede Hedberg, who was also sharp with 24 saves after 40 minutes, including 14 in a scoreless but wild second period.
Coming off a victory over Atlanta in Game 1 of the series, the Rangers picked up right where they left off. The major difference from the opening game was the number of penalties, as five total calls in one period equaled the total from all three periods on Thursday night. Through two periods, each team had been on the power play four times, and each would get two more power-play opportunities in the third.
Avery's first-period goal likely wasn't the type he dreamed of scoring for a career postseason milestone, but it was enough to put the Rangers in the driver's seat. The bizarre tally came as Avery was dumping the puck into the Atlanta zone for a line change. The puck hit a seam in the glass over the left boards and caromed right toward the Thrashers net. Caught off guard, Hedberg failed to judge the puck and before he could react properly, it was over the goal line for a 1-0 Rangers lead at 8:08.
Although the goal itself was odd, the play that helped produce it was anything but, as Lundqvist made a tremendous stop on Tkachuk to prevent the Thrashers from taking a lead.
Lundqvist denied Tkachuk after a turnover in the Rangers zone sprung the perennial All-Star on a break down into the slot. Tkachuk attempted a deke move around Lundqvist's stick side, but the Blueshirts goalie stayed right with him, steering the puck to safety.
Despite all of the power plays, the Rangers' tight defense, along with Lundqvist's strong performance, proved too much for the Thrashers, who could not generate much of anything during a relatively limited number of second-period forays into the offensive zone
One way the Rangers kept Atlanta from generating offense was by controlling the puck for long stretches at Atlanta's end of the ice – leaving the Thrashers defensemen scrambling for much of the games. Just as they did in Game 1, the Blueshirts' No. 1 of Jaromir Jagr, Michael Nylander and Hossa was had great success playing keep-away and tiring out the Atlanta blueliners.
The second period emerged as a goaltending battle between the netminders, with Hedberg and Lundqvist trading spectacular saves midway through the period.
Hedberg made the first highlight-reel stop, denying Shanahan on a Jagr rebound just as a Rangers power play expired.
Jagr had taken the initial shot from the right, circle, and the puck rebounded directly to Shanahan in the slot. The Rangers winger fired a low shot toward the left corner, but an off-balance Hedberg managed to flash his right pad just enough to kick the puck wide of the left post at 9:23.
Only 67 seconds after the stop on Shanahan, Lundqvist worked his own magic when he denied Scott Mellanby from right in front of the net. Mellanby had taken a perfect centering pass from the left boards and was looking to shoot high on the Rangers netminder. Lundqvist didn't flinch, deflecting the puck up over the net with his upper body.
Another second-period flurry came at 13:00, when Lundqvist was forced to make big saves on Andy Sutton from the left point and Tkachuk from the right circle just five seconds later.
Near the end of the second period, Hedberg kept it a one-goal game with a sprawling save on a Jed Ortmeyer breakaway. As Ortmeyer bore down on him from the right side of the slot, Hedberg dove with his stick extended and managed to cut down the angle enough to keep Ortmeyer from going around him.
Both teams did a good job in killing their shorthanded situations through two periods, and the Rangers held Atlanta to only eight shots in the second period despite three Thrashers power plays.
Lundqvist didn't come under too much pressure during any of Atlanta's six man-advantages, thanks to some relentless penalty killing in front of him. The Rangers defense, featuring a pair of rookies in Thomas Pock and Dan Girardi, was aggressive in breaking up plays and blocking numerous shots.
"It was a pretty tough game despite not getting a lot of shots early," Lundqvist said of his afternoon. "You just have to stay sharp, especially in a low-scoring game like this. You've got to be ready when they get their chance."
The Rangers now have a 2-0 series lead for the first time since their 1994 Stanley Cup championship run. They also opened a series with two wins on the road for the first time since beating Philadelphia twice in 1983.
Two losses at home were certainly a tough pill for the Thrashers to swallow after playing well enough down the stretch to win the NHL's Southeast Division crown.
"We are down two games to none," said Atlanta's Bobby Holik. "The fact is we have to be better on the road than we were at home."
Renney said he expects Atlanta to come out hard for Game 3 on Tuesday night at MSG.
"I think they'll be really good in New York. I have no doubt in my mind about that," Renney said of Atlanta. "This series is far from over. ... We've got a formidable opponent in front of us and we've got to play hard for however long."