“Desperation”, said Ryan Callahan.
“It felt like do-or-die almost,” echoed Henrik Lundqvist, who made 29 saves in a 5-2 defeat of the Thrashers to rebound from being yanked after five goals against the Devils on Wednesday. “We had a really good feeling going in, I think everybody felt ‘It’s today or we might have to’…I don’t even want to think about it.”
But on the flight back to
Instead, they could think about how they rode a three-goal first period, including two on the power play, and two goals and three points from Vinny Prospal and a goal and two assists for Marian Gaborik in his most productive evening since he returned from a groin injury sustained in the Olympics. “We got the start we wanted,” said Lundqvist. “Mentally knowing that we could have been five points behind…this one was big for our confidence.”
As Sean Avery, benched by coach John Tortorella for not being “engaged” enough, watched from the stands, the Rangers fended off the Thrashers for the first seven minutes of the game and then broke it open.
“It was a huge, huge start for us,” said Prospal, whose second goal, and 17th of the season, made the score 3-0 at 13:26 and came three seconds after a 5 on 3 power play ended. Chris Drury, stationed in front of goaltender Johan Hedberg, set up that one, and the previous power-play goal, for Gaborik, his team-leading 36th. That shot, off a scramble in front, came just 41 seconds after Prospal’s opener, a slapper from the left side that went off Hedberg’s glove.
“We got that second one right away and that’s a big thing,” said Callahan. “Our power play showed up. Dru did a great job and we got some shots. It was as close to a must-win as you can get.”
But the Thrashers wouldn’t go quietly. With Olli Jokinen in the box, Clarke MacArthur slammed in a pass at 2:33 of the second to cut the lead to 3-1.
Michael Del Zotto restored the three-goal lead at 17:32 when Gaborik was patient on a rush and saw the rookie defenseman creeping down the left side. Del Zotto’s shot hit Zack Bogosian's skate and trickled under Hedberg.
In the third, Ron Hainsey beat Lundqvist at 11:26. “We had a chance to get it out, we didn’t, the puck’s in the back of the net,” said Tortorella. “And the complexion changes.” However, the penalty-killers (3-for-4) burned off two in the third and Callahan's 18th, an empty-netter with 1:06 to play, sealed it.
The Rangers, now 30-29-9 for 69 points, begin a three-game homestand Sunday against the sixth-place Flyers. “We still have a number of concentration situations and ebbs and flows that still isn’t where it should be at this time of year,” said Tortorella. “We have a game against Philly coming up and we’re going to have to be better.”