Thursday, November 24, 2005

Rangers Give Thanks In Atlanta

This season, the revamped Rangers have had much to be thankful for. Things continued to go their way in Atlanta with a 6-3 victory on Thanksgiving for their fourth straight win. It avenged an ugly 7-4 Thanksgiving loss three years ago at Phillips Arena.

Entering play, the Blueshirts had played more games than any other team. With the win which improved them to 15-7-3 in game number 25, a team picked near the bottom of the NHL now sits alone at the top of the East with 33 points. A message coach Tom Renney posted on the bulletin board before they took the ice.

However, it didn't come as easy the score would indicate. Unable to bury some early chances in the first, the Rangers found themselves behind when Marian Hossa converted on Atlanta's first power play, beating starter Kevin Weekes with a backhand from in front at 6:38. Hossa's 10th of the season was assisted by Scott Mellanby and Jaroslav Modry.

A couple of minutes later, New York dodged a bullet when Hossa's centering feed from in close deflected off the post on another PP. Not long after, they tied the game when Jason Ward beat Steve Shields on a wraparound at 12:06. On in place of Jaromir Jagr, who missed a shift due to an unknown issue, Ward retrieved the puck behind the net and shifted to his backhand to score his third of the season. Michael Nylander and Ville Nieminen added assists.

With Steve Rucchin out with a sore back, Renney shifted Martin Straka off the top line to center the second unit at the beginning of the game. However, late in the first, Renney changed it up putting Straka with Jagr and fellow Czech rookie Petr Prucha. After nearly taking the lead late, Renney kept them intact for the second. The move along with putting Nieminen and Ward with Nylander paid off.

Taking advantage of a shaky Shields, Prucha chipped home a backhand rebound for his third goal in four games (sixth of season). Jagr and Jason Strudwick assisted 59 seconds in for a 2-1 lead. Just 1:12 later, Nylander notched his eighth off a soft rebound of a Ward shot to end Shields' night (3 GA on 13 shots).

But right after Bob Hartley pulled Shields for Michael Garnett, the Thrashers came right back 41 seconds later to cut it to 3-2 when Marc Savard skated through a maze of Rangers to beat Weekes five-hole for his seventh of the season.

After Garnett made some timely saves, Slava Kozlov tied it on the power play with 3:21 left in the period. Off a two-on-one rush, Mellanby setup Kozlov on the doorstep for his fifth of the season. Just when Atlanta had the momentum, the game's most dynamic player Jagr grabbed it back 1:19 later with a vintage goal. Setup by linemates Straka and Prucha, Jagr took the puck on right wing, then moved to the slot and ripped a shot top shelf for his NHL leading 21st of the season to make it 4-3.

After a big penalty kill at the beginning of the third, the Rangers lost Kevin Weekes to an ankle injury 2:20 in. When a Thrasher accidentally knocked the net off its mooring, part of it hit the back of Weekes' right ankle. He was helped off the ice by Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay.

Forced to come in ice cold off the bench, Henrik Lundqvist fought off some jitters on a Hossa shot but settled down. With his team playing well in front of him, he stopped all six shots he saw including a tough save of a Mellanby shorthanded chance.

When Blair Betts converted a Marcel Hossa pass in front to put the Rangers up 5-3 with 11:51 remaining, it gave the team enough breathing room. To show how in sync this team is, Rucchin's replacement Chad Wiseman notched his first NHL assist on the goal in his first game of the season.

Jed Ortmeyer added an empty net goal with 43 seconds to go.

Notes: Weekes picked up the win, finishing with 16 saves in 42 minutes. He was on crutches but the team won't know the extent of the injury until tomorrow. ... Jagr's two points increased his league-leading total to 39 points (21-18-39). He has 10 points during the Rangers' four-game win streak. ... In relief of Shields, Garnett stopped 17 of 19. ... Rangers were 0-for-5 on the man-advantage. They return home Saturday to face Washington (8-13-1) at 8 PM. Caps took the first meeting 3-2 at The MCI Center October 10.

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