Saturday, October 15, 2005

Rangers Thrash Atlanta 5-1

The Rangers just might be getting the hang of this 'new nhl' thing. They also might be enjoying it more. For the second consecutive game on home ice, they handled an opponent that had given them problems in past seasons.

Instead of the Devils, this time the victim was the Thrashers in a 5-1 victory Saturday night in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd. It snapped a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) on home ice against Atlanta (2-4-0).

Martin Rucinsky and Michael Nylander each had a goal and assist while Jaromir Jagr and Marcel Hossa added two assists in the Blueshirts' second win in a row.

Rucinsky got the Rangers on the board first when he fired a shot from the left boards that deflected past Atlanta rookie netminder Adam Berkhoel 10:32 into the first. Berkhoel, the former University of Denver product was making his first NHL start due to a rash of injuries to Atlanta's goalies. He had 24 saves. Kari Lehtonen and Mike Dunham were out with injuries while third stringer Michael Garnett was rested after a 9-1 blowout loss to Toronto Friday night. Fedor Tyutin and Hossa notched assists. In all six games this season, New York has scored first. They carried that lead to the locker room, outshooting Atlanta 10-8.

Jed Ortmeyer made it a two-goal lead 12:31 into the second when he rebounded his own redirection, chipping the puck over Berkhoel for his first of the season. The play was created off some good forecheck pressure. After the Thrashers almost tied it, the Rangers worked the puck into the Atlanta zone and drew a penalty. But on the delayed call, Dominic Moore kept the play alive by passing it around Peter Bondra to Nylander. Nylander setup a Martin Straka one-timer, which Ortmeyer tipped and then put home.

In past years, pucks wouldn't bounce the Rangers' way. However, they would receive a fortuitous bounce only 35 seconds later which allowed Steve Rucchin to make it 3-0. With his initial shot blocked by Garnet Exelby, the puck came right back and he quickly fired a low shot through Exelby and Berkhoel for his first of the season from Rucinsky and Hossa.

After Darius Kasparaitis drew an interference penalty on Scott Mellanby, the Rangers took advantage when Nylander one-timed home a Michal Rozsival pass from the point thru a screen to make it 4-0 with 3:16 left in the stanza. Nylander's first of the season was assisted by Rozsival and Jagr.

Having outplayed and outshot Atlanta 19-14 after two periods to build the four-goal cushion, the Garden crowd gave the Rangers a standing ovation. Little did they know what rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist had in store for the final period.

With his team comfortably ahead, it was Lundqvist's time to shine in the third and that he did. With Atlanta finally coming out with more energy, Lundqvist became the story, making several great saves to retain the 4-0 lead. As he repelled each shot away, the crowd got more into it. When Ilya Kovalchuk's centering feed deflected off Kasparaitis' skate and by Lundqvist with 10:53 remaining to foil the shutout bid, the knowledgable crowd gave him a standing ovation. He continued to earn more cheers as the period went on.

With the Thrashers down 4-1 and on the attack, Lundqvist turned away their attempts to get back into the game, including a pad stop of a Bondra one-timer.

Finally, the Rangers put the contest out of reach due to some hard work from Ville Nieminen. Switched onto the top line by coach Tom Renney to help check Atlanta's top line, Nieminen kept a forecheck alive in the corner. It resulted in him finding a Jagr rebound and beating Berkhoel for a 5-1 lead with 7:53 left. Jagr and Marek Malik picked up helpers.

Afterwards, the Lundqvist show continued as he made several more of his sparkling 14 third period saves. His best stop was a point blank robbery of Marian Hossa from in close, stoning the former Senator. So steady was the 23-year-old in his second straight start that Ranger fans started chanting, 'Lundqvist, Lundqvist, Lundqvist' after stoppages.

With over a minute left and his team on their way to a win, the Swedish product acknowledged the cheers by waving to the crowd. As the buzzer sounded, he slapped a puck in the general direction where most of the chants came from. He finished with 28 saves.

After being announced as the game's number one star for the second consecutive game, Lundqvist went over to that same corner and tossed a puck over the boards to a lucky fan. With them continuing to laud him, he took a couple of more bows before leaving the ice.

"It was loud back home, but this is New York," Lundqvist said to reporters afterwards. "Only two games here and they're saying my name. I love this crowd already."

It might have been the most energy a Garden crowd had since the days of Mike Richter in net. It also invoked memories of another special era in which the Rangers were a team on and off the ice. That it came so early in a season most experts had written them off was ample proof that hard work pays off. The Atlantic Division leading Rangers (3-1-2) look to continue that trend when they host Florida (4-2-0) Monday night at 7 PM.

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