Thursday night a Southeast Division opponent came into MSG and, with a 3-0 win, the Atlanta Thrashers cast a big chill on the Rangers’ chances to keep playing spring hockey. New York's postseason hopes now all come down to Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.
Playing With Fire
And I mean the bad kind of fire. Rather than rocket out of the gates with the energy you'd expect from a team chasing a final playoff spot, the Rangers were outplayed for much of the first before finally yielding a pair of markers near the midway point of the second period. Though the Rangers had come close to notching a pair of goals themselves, including a Brian Boyle pipe-strike six minutes into the second, the Blueshirts’ deficit could have been much greater if not for some acrobatic saves by Henrik Lundqvist. A toe save to halt an Evander Kane breakaway at the end of the first period was the most notable among the clutch stops.
Former Islander (double burn) Rob Schremp beat Lundqvist over his right shoulder for the Thrashers’ first goal at 7:42 of the second period. A mere, 15 seconds later, the Thrash lit the lamp again when Andrew Ladd broke into the zone untouched and slid a shot through Lundqvist to turn up the heat on the Rangers. For the second consecutive game, the Rangers faced a multi-goal deficit in a must-have game.
Lucky For Lundqvist
As mentioned above, the Rangers would have faced a much, much deeper hole if not for Lundqvist. Through two periods he had recorded 18 saves. At least a third of them fell into the highlight reel category. In addition to turning away Kane’s breakaway, Lundqvist robbed Dustin Byfuglien with a lightning-quick glove save when the D-man was all alone at the left faceoff dot.
Rally For Cally
In addition to his leadership and energy, the biggest aspects the Rangers miss without Ryan Callahan is his ability to sustain a forecheck and his ability to stretch the defense with his speed down the wing. Safe to say the Rangers sorely lacked both of those traits Thursday night. Seldom could the Rangers keep the puck in deep and even the speedy Marian Gaborik, who saw scant ice time in period three, couldn’t beat the Thrashers’ D to the outside.
The Thrashers eclipsed any hope of another stirring comeback at 4:19 in the third when a goal by Johnny Oduya pushed the margin to 3-0 in favor of Atlanta. The Rangers' energy level spiked after that strike but they still couldn't breach Thrasher goalie Ondrej Pavelec. The Atlanta keeper was solid, but never had to be spectacular en route to the shutout. The Rangers just couldn't muster many good chances and dreams of a rally died out slowly over the final 15 minutes.
For better or worse the Rangers’ postseason fate will be decided Saturday. It starts with a 12:30 p.m. showdown against the Devils, but the Carolina Hurricanes could have the final say if they can pull out a win against these same Thrashers on Friday night. That would pull the Canes even with the Blueshirts and make the Rangers wait for the outcome of Carolina’s Saturday night tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning before knowing their future. After yielding control of their own destiny with a loss Thursday, one way or the other the Rangers will have to sit. And wait.