ATLANTA----What can you say but, impressive.
Trailing 2-1 in the third period and with two more players down with injuries, the Rangers mustered up a character win tonight in a shootout against the Thrashers.
After failing to convert on a 5 on 3 for 1:24 that would have tied the score, the Rangers, already playing with a rash of injuries, did not cave. With 5:19 left in regulation at Philips Arena, Brian Boyle scored his 17th of the season, tying him for the team lead, by splitting two All-Star defensemen, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, veering left and going to his forehand to chip a shot off Ondrej Pavelec’s glove to tie the game at 2.
Then Mats Zuccarell, deked Pavelec for the lone goal in the shootout and his third goal in three tries, and Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped all three Atlanta attempts, provided the Rangers with a 3-2 comeback win that gave them a four-point cushion over the Thrashers in the Eastern Conference..
“Gotta give them high marks, especially after the 5 on 3, ” said coach John Tortorella, who was satisfied that the defensive gaps that plagued the team in the 4-1 loss in Carolina in the first game of this three-game trip were closed. The Rangers rallied from being down by a goal twice to force the shootout. “The little ---- (Zuccarello) comes up and Henrik, that’s a key,” said Tortorella. “When we got through that overtime, you like your chances as far as how Henrik handles himself there.”
In 15 games, Zuccarello has two shootout game-deciders and an overtime winner. “About time I got a goal,” said the Norwegian winger, who had five shots. “We probably could have ended the game in the second period, we’ve got to start scoring a little early. But it’s huge, battling hard after losing two guys and other players stepping up.”
Both Dan Girardi, who fought Andrew Ladd at 8:08 of the second after a hit on Marc Staal, and Brandon Prust, who blocked a Byfuglien shot with his left foot and couldn’t return, are day-to-day. Girardi has a pulled rib muscle; Prust’s x-rays were negative, but both Evgeny Grachev and defenseman Michael del Zotto were recalled form the AHL Connecticut Whale. Dale Weise was returned to Hartford.
Lundqvist, who stopped Brian Little, Nik Antropov and Niclas Bergfors for his third shootout win of the season, said he “felt pretty comfortable, I was patient. But it was a team effort. We work hard every night, and don’t take anything for granted.”
Down 1-0 after one period on Antropov’s tip in, Wojtek Wolski tied the game with his third goal and sixth point since he was acquired from Phoenix. Girardi pinched along the boards and Derek Stepan’s shot was tipped high into the right corner by Wolski at 2:43 of the second. The Thrashers regained the lead when Anthony Stewart fought off Ryan McDonagh to sweep in a rebound at 18:01.
The grit from Girardi and Prust, though, left the biggest impression on the players and coach. "Danny stands in there, in a situation where he needed to against a pretty tough kid,” said Tortorella. “And Prust, he tried to skate at the beginning of the third, and he couldn’t at all. I got him off and he still wanted to play, that’s what he’s been to our team. I’m glad they got rewarded.”