The Rangers got off to a quick start offensively in the first period. For a good two minutes, they forechecked very well and pinned the Thrashers in their own zone. Their best chance came off the rush when Chad Kolarik made a nice drop pass to Brian Boyle, which Ondrej Pavelec made a quick pad save on. That was the last of the Rangers' chances coming from the slot in that period, because Atlanta, from that point on, tightened up and kept the Blueshirts to the outside.
Nik Antropov put the Thrashers up 1-0 at 6:47 of the first by deflecting a Tobias Enstrom wrist shot through the legs of Henrik Lundqvist. The massive forward simply out-battled Steve Eminger in front to gain position, and then his great hands were put to use on the nifty deflection. Atlanta was able to maintain that lead going into the intermission.
New York gained some momentum early in the second by killing off the remainder of a Marc Staal delay of game penalty. They used that momentum to their advantage by finding the tying goal at 2:43 of the second. The play started with a smart pinch along the boards by defenseman Dan Girardi. That enabled Derek Stepan to gain possession down low, where he made a brilliant feed to Wojtek Wolski in the slot, which Wolski redirected up and over the shoulder of Pavelec.
Girardi was in the middle of a lot of the action in the second, as in addition to recording the assist, he also dropped the gloves with Andrew Ladd following a big hit on Marc Staal in the corner. I love the fact that Dan wasted no time coming to the defense of his D partner there, and I also give credit to Ladd for agreeing to fight since he technically did not have to.
With only two minutes left in the second, Anthony Stewart regained the lead for the Thrashers. When crashing the net, Stewart was stuck by Bryan Little's wrister, but luckily for him the puck fell in a perfect position for him to quickly sweep the shot past Lundqvist. This was just an unlucky play for Ryan McDonagh, because he followed the play well, but with the puck dying upon hitting Stewart, he was left in an awkward position to defend.
The Blueshirts were presented with a prime opportunity to tie the game midway through the third when they went on a 5 on 3 powerplay. However, they dropped the ball on that one, standing still and barely creating any scoring chances. At that point, I figured the game was over because there was no emotion shown on that powerplay at all. But Brian "Warrior" Boyle once again came through with a clutch goal late in the third to tie the game at two and send the two teams to overtime.
The extra period had a fast pace to it (there's your Sam Rosen reference) and saw chances on both ends of the rink. The goalies were great, though, and stopped all shots that were thrown their way. So, to a shootout we went.
Mats Zuccarello worked his magic again, slowing down right in front of the goaltender and then making a series of quick moves to put the puck to the back of the net. Lundqvist, meanwhile, made stops on Little, Antropov and Bergfors to secure the 3-2 victory.
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I don't know how this team does it sometimes. They lost two more key players after the second period in Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust, but were still able to overcome adversity and find a way to win this game. To be honest, I think they took Atlanta by surprise late in that third period. They appeared depleted after the failed powerplay chance, but then all of a sudden turned it on and found that tying goal. It truly was a character win in Atlanta tonight, and two huge points were gained in the standings as a result.
Getting back to the injuries, Prust is undoubtedly dealing with an ankle problem right now as he was shaken up after blocking a Dustin Byfuglien blast in the first period. He played through it for a while, but obviously it got the best of him by the time the third period rolled around. And don't forget, he is also fighting through a shoulder injury as well, because I did notice some sort of shoulder brace on him in his postgame interview on Wednesday.
And then Dan Girardi was caught in the nose with a heavy fist by Andrew Ladd in their second stanza scrap. He went to the locker room to put bleeding in his nose to rest, but then returned and played a shift. He looked just fine to me, but then he never came out for the third, so there must've been an issue there that didn't affect him originally.
Losing either of these players would hurt the Rangers tremendously, especially with the list of guys already out of the lineup. The good thing is that they all have an All-Star break approaching, so hopefully they will use that time to heal up and be ready to go come February.
Update: Prust's x-rays came back negative while Girardi is day-to-day with a rib injury.
Focusing back on tonight's win, there were a couple standout performances that I think had a major impact on the tilt. First and foremost, Brian Boyle carried the club this evening. He was moving his legs and getting chances all night long, and then scored that magnificent tying goal. Boyle is now tied for the team lead in goals with 17.
Sean Avery was also very active offensively and was even leading all forwards in ice time following the second period. Avery always steps his game up a notch when playing with Marian Gaborik. It is an odd combination that you wouldn't necessarily expect to form chemistry, but hey, if it works.
Whale representatives Chad Kolarik, Brodie Dupont and Kris Newbury all played a solid game. Kolarik was all over the place and through two games has been very impressive Newbury picked up an assist on the Boyle goal and was distributing the puck well throughout the game. And Dupont was noticeable in his NHL debut, getting a couple shots on goal and battling hard along the boards and in the corners.
This team is relentless and that showed tonight. Like I said, I thought the game was over early in the third, but they took me by surprise yet again. The Rangers are now tied in points with the Canadiens, but the Habs have played one less game so they get sixth and the Rangers get seventh for the time being. The Blueshirts' next game will be on Monday against the Capitals in Washington.