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Rangers seize the points at Atlanta

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers forward Sean Avery congratulates goalie Henrik Lundqvist on his victory over the Thrashers on Saturday night at Philips Arena. Lundqvist finished the game with 20 saves and went on to stop all three Thrashers in the overtime shootout.

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The story has been repeated multiple times this season, yet it never gets old.

The Rangers, their lineup further decimated by injury, rally from a third-period deficit to earn another crucial two points in the standings.

It happened once again on Saturday night in Atlanta, as the Blueshirts lost the services of Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust due to injury, yet climbed out of a 2-1 hole to secure a 3-2 overtime shootout victory over the Thrashers at Philips Arena.

“I’ve said it all year, this is an easy team to like because it’s played as a team,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “You have to give them high marks tonight. I am glad they got rewarded with a win because they deserved it.”

Mats Zuccarello -- now a perfect 3-for-3 in shootout attempts this season -- scored the only goal of Saturday’s shootout, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped all three Thrashers to secure the victory for the Rangers. The win was critical for the visitors, who entered play in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but only three points ahead of eighth place Atlanta.

“We battled so hard, even with losing two key guys, and other guys just stepped up again,” said Zuccarello, who made a gorgeous backhand deke before beating Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec with a forehand finish in the shootout. “It was a team effort, and a great victory.”

Brian Boyle’s 17th goal of the season -- with 5:19 to play in the third period -- tied the game 2-2 and guaranteed the Rangers at least one point on the road when the game officially headed to overtime shortly thereafter. The Rangers are now an impressive 6-12-3 in games they trail after two periods of play this season.

Rangers forward Brian Boyle looks to score on Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Boyle went on to score the goal that forced overtime when he beat Pavelec on a partial breakaway with just 5:19 to go.
Boyle chased a lead pass from Kris Newbury, lost his checker, and then burst past All-Star defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to flick the puck off Pavelec’s glove and into the net to tie the game.

“It was a bouncing puck, and I just tried to skate and get it to settle, and went against the grain and I don’t even know where it went it in, it just did,” Boyle said of his goal, which ties him with the injured Brandon Dubinsky for the team lead. “It was a fortunate bounce, I think.”

Earlier in the final period, the Rangers had a prime opportunity to tie -- or even move ahead of -- the Thrashers when Atlanta took consecutive penalties. Bryan Little held Marian Gaborik at 4:51 to produce the Rangers’ first power play of the game, and Brent Sopel followed by taking a delay-of-game penalty at 5:27.

Handed a two-man advantage for 1:24, the Rangers used five forwards on the ice and produced excellent scoring chances by Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski, but were held at bay by Atlanta’s 29th-ranked penalty killing unit. Pavelec made a series of three saves while sprawled on his stomach to rob Wolski from the doorstep on the best of the visitors’ chances.

“I would have liked to see us move the puck quicker there, but we did produce a couple chances,” said Tortorella. “After that 5-on-3, I wasn’t sure (we) would be rewarded, but (we) stuck with it and found a way.”

Anthony Stewart’s goal with 1:59 left in the second period gave the Thrashers a 2-1 lead, and put the Rangers in the difficult position of having to rally from behind once again on the road entering the third period.

Stewart was able to sweep a loose puck past Lundqvist, despite the fact that defenseman Ryan McDonagh was draped all over his back. The puck had landed in the slot after Little’s shot from inside the blueline had been blocked, an unfortunate thing for the Rangers as the disc landed right by Stewart.

The goal nullified one by Wolski earlier in the second period which had pulled the Rangers even 1-1. Wolski netted his ninth of the season -- and third as a Ranger -- by deflecting Derek Stepan’s centering pass up and over Pavelec’s shoulder at 2:43.

Moments before Wolski’s goal, his linemate Zuccarello had two excellent scoring chances denied by Pavelec. Those chances were just two of the many created by Zuccarello -- likely the Rangers’ most consistent threat all night long.

“I sure had enough chances, but Pavelec was very good for them tonight,” said Zuccarello. “We probably could have ended the game in the second period because we had all those chances. I feel like for the first two periods we controlled the game, so we have to start scoring on our chances a little bit earlier.”

Rangers forward Wojtek Wolski is congratulated at the bench after scoring his third goal as a Blueshirt to tie up Atlanta 1-1 at 2:43 of the second period.
The tie score held up until Stewart’s goal due to the solid work in goal by both Pavelec and Lundqvist, who were both extremely sharp on Saturday. Lundqvist made one of his best saves of the season at 7:33 when he made a diving glove save along the goal line to rob Stewart on the doorstep.

“It was a great feeling to get this win,” said Lundqvist, who finished with 20 saves. “We had a tough loss the other night, and we’re losing guys left and right, so right now we’re just battling, and these were two big points.”

The Rangers lost the services of Girardi in the second period when he injured muscles near his rib cage during a fight with Atlanta’s captain Andrew Ladd. Girardi had jumped to Marc Staal’s defense after Staal absorbed a hit into the end boards by Ladd -- hurting his shoulder on the play. Although bloodied early in the fight, Girardi kept trading punches until he injured his ribs.

Girardi attempted to return to the game later in the period, but was unable to play effectively and could no longer continue.

“It’s huge what he did, it gave the team such a huge boost,” Zuccarello said of Girardi. “It just shows what kind of guys we have on our team, stepping up for each other. It means so much for our team.”

Prust was hurt blocking a shot in the first period. He continued to play, though clearly his skating was hampered. Tortorella finally removed Prust from the game for good at the start of the third period, although x-rays later on proved to be negative on Prust’s injured foot.

“I watched Prust go off the kick boards to get on the ice and he couldn’t even step on the ice, yet he’s out there trying to skate around, and I took him off and he still wanted to play,” said Tortorella. “That’s what he’s been to our team all year long.”

Following the game, the Rangers recalled defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forward Evgeny Grachev from the Connecticut Whale in case either Girardi or Prust is unable to play in the team’s next game on Monday night at Washington against the Capitals.
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