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Rangers rock The Garden, rout Thrashers 7-0

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Sean Avery had a pair of assists in the second period, and continued to cause major headaches for the Thrashers on Tuesday night, just as he did in Games 1 and 2 in Atlanta.


POSTGAME VIDEO FROM MSG
Sam and Joe Recap the Game 3 Victory WMP
Lundqvist on Getting a Playoff Shutout WMP
Jagr on the Domination at the Garden WMP
Nylander Discusses Hat Trick, Big Victory WMP
Callahan on the Thrashers WMP
Renney's Postgame Remarks to Press WMP
Atlanta Coach Hartley Postgame Remarks WMP

Scoresheet | Stats | Faceoffs | Play-by-Play | Shift Chart

The fans at Madison Square Garden had waited almost a decade to see their beloved Rangers win a playoff game at home, so on Tuesday night, the Blueshirts made sure to deliver a victory that would linger in their memories for a long, long time.

Already leading their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series by two games, the Rangers rolled over Atlanta in Game 3 on Tuesday, beating the Thrashers 7-0 for their first postseason victory at MSG since a May 8, 1997, win over New Jersey.

The 7-0 win broke a Rangers record for the largest margin of victory in a playoff shutout, surpassing the previous mark of 6-0 set on numerous occasions, including twice against the Islanders to open the 1994 Stanley Cup championship run. The seven unanswered goals also tied the Rangers' record for the largest margin of victory in a postseason game, established in a 10-3 win over Los Angeles on April 11, 1981.

This one belonged to the Blueshirts from the very start, as Michael Nylander scored just 32 seconds into the game en route to his first playoff hat trick. Sparked by a fired-up Garden crowd, the Rangers went on to build up a 3-0 lead after one period, a 5-0 lead after two, and then added two more insurance tallies, including Nylander's hat-trick goal, in the final period.

"Certainly the way we started was really, really important," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "I thought we handled the circumstances of being the home team, amongst a fan base that's desperate to see success here. All we ever try to do is live up to that. That could be debilitating, but our guys showed the type of mettle that you need to move forward in a series. Tomorrow is a big day for us and we hope that because of the way we approached tonight's game we can at least duplicate the effort and hopefully get the same result."

With a 3-0 lead in the series, the Rangers have a chance to complete the sweep when the teams return to MSG for the second half of back-to-back games on Wednesday night. The Thrashers, meanwhile, would need to become only the third team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to keep the Blueshirts from reaching the conference semifinals.

"I think we are hungry and we are going to come in here tomorrow night with the mindset that we are going to finish it off and play a real hard game," said Rangers forward Sean Avery, who had two assists. "Basically, the same game we played in the first three (games of this series)."

Nylander also spoke about the need to stick to the style of play that has worked so well for three games.

"We cannot change anything," Nylander said. "We have to continue working the way we have and the way we should. We just have to stay tight and capitalize on the changes when they are there."

Nylander scored twice in the first period and once in the third, Ryan Callahan tallied twice in the second, and single goals came from Marek Malik and Brendan Shanahan on a night when the home team simply could do no wrong.

Outshooting the Thrashers 35-21, the Rangers made it a relatively easy night for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who earned his first career playoff shutout with 21 saves. He came up with big stops when tested, but should still be feeling anything but tired as he heads into Game 4.

"The guys played great in front of me," Lundqvist said. "They got a couple of shots, but we were right there. It is great to see how confident we play out there. It can turn very fast. We just have to keep it simple. So far it is paying off for us big time. They are a great team. They had some tough bounces tonight and a tough start. Tomorrow is a completely different story and we just have to get ready for a big game."

By the third period, Tuesday's game was already well out of reach for Atlanta, although Shanahan and Nylander were able to add to the lead. Shanahan scored from the right faceoff circle to make it 6-0 at 8:58, and Nylander finished off the hat trick by closing out the scoring with 4:06 left to play.

"It is always nice to score goals but the bottom line is that we got this win," said Nylander. "We are here to win the hockey game and we did that. We have to rest and get back tomorrow. They are going to be hungry. They are going to come out with a lot of speed and energy. We have to perform well again."

Coming off two wins in Atlanta, the Rangers were already flying high before they opened Tuesday's game, but by the end of the night, they were literally soaring.

It had been 24 years since the Rangers returned to MSG off two road wins to open a playoff series, and just as they did in a 9-3 laugher in 1983, the Blueshirts turned Game 3 into a rout.

Setting the pace, as it did in Game 1, was the Rangers' No. 1 line of Nylander, captain Jaromir Jagr and Marcel Hossa. The trio utterly dominated the Thrashers over the first 20 minutes, and all four lines shared in the offensive pressure the rest of the way against an overwhelmed group of Thrashers defensemen.

"We're just trying to follow their lead," Callahan said of the Jagr-Nylander-Hossa line. "Tonight they were unbelievable right from the get-go and they led the way."

The top line combined for nine points, including seven in the first period. That exceeded their total of six points from a stellar Game 1. Nylander and Jagr each had four points on Tuesday night, and Nylander alone now has four goals and seven points in the first three games of the series.

Matters were effectively decided in the opening period, as both Nylander and Jagr picked up three points. Jagr sprung Nylander for the first tally just 32 seconds into the game, setting the tone for what would follow. Jagr also picked up second assists on the other Nylander tally in the first period, as well as Malik's goal.

"We had a great start. That was the bottom line," said Jagr. "We scored the first goal and kept going. We had a lead after the first period, and I thought that was enough."

The first-period performance left the Garden Faithful in palpable ecstasy, but the crowd was already roaring from the minute the game began. Nylander wasted no time giving them what they were looking for -- hitting the net for the eventual game-winner on the first shot of the night.

"They (the fans) were going crazy even before the game started," said Avery. "It is like having an extra guy out there."

Callahan agreed that the fans played a big role in Tuesday's performance.

"It started during warm-ups," Callahan said. "I've never experienced anything like that. One couldn't ask to play in a better atmosphere then this."

On the winning goal, Nylander started the play himself, bringing the puck up from the Rangers zone and passing to Malik. The defenseman fed it up ahead to Jagr on the right wing, and Jagr crossed over the blue line, looking for Nylander, who was catching up to him on his left. Nylander took Jagr's perfect pass in the high slot, drifted toward the left circle and unleashed a wrister that sailed past Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen for a 1-0 lead.

Nylander's goal helped put the Swedish center on track to win a playoff series for the first time in his NHL career.

"He's been in the league a long time and it reminds you of other veteran players who have not won a Cup yet," said Renney. "You equate that to even a series and you think it's amazing that Mike's been in the league as long as he has. But he's a humble man and I think that's symbolic of our team. I think we try to be a humble team and we get a lot of that from Mike. He's a tireless worker, he works with our young players on some of the skilled parts of the game. It would be great to win; not just one series for Mike, but more beyond that. We still have more work to do."

The goal in the team's playoff home opener was reminiscent of the regular-season opener, when Jagr himself scored just 29 seconds into an Oct. 5 game against Washington, firing the crowd up en route to a what became a 5-2 cakewalk.

"We were skating. We were moving the puck and skating. That is why we scored the goals in the first period," Jagr said after Tuesday's win. "We were dominating in the offensive zone and that was the difference. All five guys were skating and they just had a tough time picking it up."

Lehtonen had been a surprise choice to start in goal, following a strong performance by Thrashers backup Johan Hedberg. Atlanta coach Bob Hartley's move backfired, however, as Lehtonen gave up an average of one goal for every five shots he faced on Tuesday night.

"I don't think it's something that we really concentrate on," Rangers forward Blair Betts said of the goaltending change. "I caught wind of it sometime last night that they'd be switching again. We still have to throw pucks at the net, put traffic in front."

Nylander struck again at the 9:45 mark, scoring from the right faceoff circle off the rebound off a shot by Hossa. As Lehtonen went down to see past the traffic in front of him, Nylander alertly fired the puck just over his right pad and into the far side of the net for a 2-0 lead.

By the time Nylander scored his second goal, Lundqvist had seen only three shots from the Thrashers, and had made his best saves on Marian Hossa at 5:49 and against Eric Belanger at 7:58.

Later in the first, the Rangers continued to pour on the offense during a 4-on-4 situation with Avery and Greg de Vries both off for cross-checking. This time, it was Malik getting into the scoring parade. Taking a pass from Nylander, who had emerged from behind the net to Lehtonen's right, Malik smacked home a shot from the left circle at 12:26 for a 3-0 lead

The Thrashers didn't test Lundqvist again until late in the first period, during the game's first power-play opportunity. With Garnet Exelby off for tripping, Pascal Dupuis went into the Rangers zone on a shorthanded breakaway at 18:39. Lundqvist stood his ground and Dupuis had nothing to shoot at.

The Exelby penalty had been drawn by Rangers rookie Callahan, who broke into the Atlanta zone and held up in the right circle before moving back toward the net and forcing Exelby to bring him down just to keep up with him.

Callahan would continue to make an impact in the middle period, as he erupted for two goals.

The 22-year-old rookie put the Rangers up 4-0 with his first NHL playoff goal at 6:27. He made it look easy, taking a breakout pass from Avery along the right wing boards in the neutral zone, skating down toward the right circle and calmly wristing a hard shot past Lehtonen's stick side.

Fedor Tyutin picked up the second assist on Callahan's goal, giving him five points in the first three games of the playoff series.

Callahan's second goal came near the end of the middle period on a power play with Atlanta's Scott Mellanby off for cross-checking.

Creating havoc in front of the net, Callahan deflected Paul Mara's shot from the left point past Lehtonen and into the lower right corner of the net at 17:21. The goal was scored with 59 seconds remaining in the Mellanby penalty, which was the Atlanta captain's second trip to the penalty box in a span of three minutes.

Making his evening even more special was the fact that Callahan's parents had come down from Rochester to watch their son in his playoff debut at MSG..

"(They) couldn't have picked a better night," Callahan said. "It was the first playoff game they are seeing so it was good for them to see that. ... It is a big night for me and I am going to enjoy it."

Although the third period was essentially reduced to "garbage time" it became an instant forum for the teams to vent their dislike for one another. At 3:51 of the third, a total of five players from both teams received 10-minute misconducts for participating in a scrum that also featured a fight between Avery and Ilya Kovalchuk. It was clear that Avery had managed to get under the Atlanta star's skin, and the young Russian went after him -- ending both players' nights with 16:09 left in the game.

"That is the way you have to play. They are going to be coming at us. I am certainly not going to let my guard down and certainly anyone else in the room shouldn't," said Avery. "We just keep going. That is the mentality we have right now. We are not going to let up. That is the way you have to be. They are not going to hold back at you by any means."

Even without Avery for much of the third period, the Rangers still picked up two more goals from Shanahan and Nylander, ensuring that Tuesday night's win would enter the record books as the most lopsided shutout in the team's 80-season history.

" It's always nice to be a part of history," said rookie defenseman Dan Girardi. "I don't think tomorrow night's game is going to turn out the same. It's going to be a little tighter checking. The came out hard and were ready. We got a couple of quick goals and that kind of took the wind out of their sails a little bit. But they worked hard the whole game."

Lundqvist said the Rangers' attention to detail was making a big difference for a team that struggled to maintain leads at points during the regular season.

"Obviously the last period we played a solid 20 minutes. The way we came out, it was great to see the guys out-worked them and out-chased them," said Lundqvist. "We just played a very simple game, but it paid off big time for us. Even though we had the lead we tried to keep it simple. When we kept scoring like we did tonight, obviously it is big for us. We just have to prepare for a much tougher game tomorrow. It came at the right time. The performance was great. We just have to keep it up tomorrow."

Avery said the Rangers' success didn't come as a surprise because the team has been diligent in sticking to its game plan.

"I think we tried to go out there, every shift, and play the same way. I think we had a little bit of a let up on a couple of shifts. As soon as that happened, we are on each other and we are doing it in a positive way," said Avery. "We know we have to pick ourselves up and get back to our game. We are playing great as a group for sure."

Renney said the Rangers will likely be pushed hard by Atlanta in Game 4, which means they can't afford to let up at all after a big win like Tuesday's.

"We're not going to take anything for granted. We have respect for our opponent; the way they operate, the way they play and what they're capable of doing," said Renney. "We understand this is far from over, as much as the record might suggest otherwise -- it's not over at all. I know Bob (Hartley) will come out hard and do everything he possibly can to get his team going in the right direction and we have to be prepared for that."
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