NEW YORK – Markus Naslund rescued one point for New York’s sluggish offence, and the Rangers then counted on Henrik Lundqvist to deliver the second one as he usually does.
Not this time. The Rangers couldn’t build off the excitement and energy generated by the ceremony to retire Adam Graves’ No. 9 to the Madison Square Garden rafters and fell to the lowly Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 in a shootout on Tuesday night.
Kari Lehtonen was the goalie who shined, stealing the spotlight away from all-star Lundqvist, who had been 7-1 this season in the tiebreaker.
Lehtonen made 39 saves and then stopped two more shots in the shootout, shaking off a blown late lead and helping the Thrashers snap a five-game road losing streak to the Rangers.
Atlanta was primed to win 1-0 on Joe Motzko’s third-period goal before Markus Naslund got New York even with 10.7 seconds remaining in regulation.
“I thought, ‘Here we go again,”‘ said Lehtonen, who lost 7-0 to the Rangers at MSG in Game 3 of the 2007 playoffs. “We haven’t won here in a long, long time. There was time in the break for me to regroup and go at it again.”
Naslund also started the shootout with a goal, but Lehtonen turned aside Nikolai Zherdev and Fredrik Sjostrom. Bryan Little and Slava Kozlov scored on Atlanta’s attempts to help the Thrashers snap a four-game losing streak. New York has lost three straight (0-2-1).
Little fired a shot that chimed in off the right post past Lundqvist. Kozlov beat him after skating far wide right of the net.
“It’s really frustrating for me,” Lundqvist said. “I really want to be there to get the extra point. It was just two really good shots.”
Just seconds after Thrashers leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk hit the outside of the right post while shooting at an empty net at the close of regulation, Naslund made Atlanta pay.
New York worked the puck around behind the Thrashers net, and Scott Gomez found Naslund alone in the slot with a crisp pass. Naslund took a moment to set himself and wired a shot past Lehtonen for his 16th goal.
After an hour-long ceremony for Graves, the current Rangers generated little offence for the second straight game. New York was beaten 1-0 at Eastern Conference-leading Boston on Saturday.
The Rangers had been shut out for 125 minutes, 54 seconds – dating to the third period of a 6-2 loss at Pittsburgh last Wednesday – before Naslund scored. New York still managed to move within four points of Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey.
“We have to take it,” Rangers captain Chris Drury said. “Again we had trouble scoring. If we keep playing like that – like we did in Boston and like we did tonight – the goals will come and we will start winning again.”
Lehtonen was only seconds away from his second shutout in five games. He had lost three of four outings, and the one that didn’t produce a defeat was an appearance in which he was chased after allowing four goals on 15 shots in the first period against the New York Islanders – the only team in the NHL with fewer points than Atlanta.
The Thrashers had lost eight of 12.
“We needed this badly,” Little said. “We’ve been through a pretty rough time. The points aren’t coming easy for us. It feels extra good to get the win.”
Motzko scored 6:26 into the third period, his first tally in more than a year. After Lundqvist turned over the puck behind the net, Colby Armstrong fed a pass through the crease that hit the stick of teammate Marty Reasoner. The puck came to Motzko, who fired in a shot.
Lundqvist made 21 saves before getting to the shootout, but faced only 12 shots through the first two periods.
“It would have been tough to lose this one 1-0 again, but we came up big in the last minute,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a big point for us, but we definitely needed two. It’s pretty disappointing.”
Notes: Motzko, who has spent all but two games this season in the minors, scored his previous NHL goal on Dec. 12, 2007, against the Rangers. … New York C Artem Anisimov made his NHL debut, and recently acquired D Erik Reitz played his first game with the Rangers since he was traded by the Minnesota Wild. … Lehtonen shut out Montreal on Jan. 20. … The Rangers are 2-3-1 in games following jersey-retirement ceremonies at MSG. They beat Atlanta 2-1 in a shootout on Jan. 24, 2008, after Brian Leetch’s No. 2 was retired.