Sean Avery ricocheted a fluke goal off the boards from centre ice and Brendan Shanahan scored the winner with 4:01 remaining Saturday, lifting the Rangers to a 2-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers and a commanding two-nothing lead in the best-of-seven playoff series.
Shanahan’s 54th career playoff goal came after Ilya Kovalchuk tied the game at 1 for the Thrashers with 14:25 to go in the third period. From the blue line, Fedor Tyutin fired a shot that was blocked in front by Atlanta defenceman Greg de Vries.
But the puck deflected to Avery in the faceoff circle, and he spotted Shanahan alone in front. The 38-year-old veteran didn’t miss, flipping a shot past a diving Johan Hedberg to give the Rangers their second straight one-goal win in Atlanta.
The series now moves to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Tuesday night. The next two games are in New York, giving the Rangers a chance to clinch the series without coming back to Atlanta.
Things got ugly at the end. Kovalchuk took a run at Avery with 3.4 seconds left and drew a penalty. Another tussle nearly broke out at the horn, but the officials broke it up and the Rangers descended on goalie Henrik Lundqvist to celebrate.
New York opened the series with a 4-3 win – the Rangers’ first post-season victory since 1997. They waited only two days to pick up another.
Atlanta made a switch in the nets after No. 1 goalie Kari Lehtonen gave up a shaky goal in his first playoff game. The Rangers scored the first two goals in that one and have yet to trail in the series.
Hedberg got the nod in Game 2, with the Thrashers hoping their backup could duplicate his performance with Pittsburgh in the 2001 playoffs. That year, “Moose” played only nine games during the regular season but started all 18 playoff contests, posting a couple of shutouts before the Penguins were eliminated in the Eastern Conference final.
Just over eight minutes in, however, Hedberg was victimized by an odd bounce that gave the Rangers another quick lead. After Lundqvist made a couple of sprawling saves on Keith Tkachuk and Kovalchuk, New York broke out of its zone.
Crossing centre ice, Avery tried to ricochet the puck off the boards and into the Atlanta end, which sent Hedberg behind the net to cut it off. The puck never got there. Instead, it somehow deflected straight toward the net – off a metal support between the glass, perhaps, or maybe just an abnormal spot in the boards.
A panicked Hedberg scrambled back in front, but his dive was too late.
Otherwise, the switch paid off. Hedberg made 37 saves, stopping a couple of breakaways and coming up with a brilliant toe save on Shanahan’s point-blank shot off a rebound.
Kovalchuk scored his first playoff goal off a nifty give-and-go with Tkachuk. The duo set up the play with persistent forechecking, taking control of the puck behind the New York goal. Kovalchuk flipped the puck to Tkachuk and spun into the lower circle for the expected return pass.
It came right on cue, and Kovalchuk didn’t miss. He ripped a shot over Lundqvist’s right shoulder, the puck popping up the water bottle on top of the net.
The excitable Russian took off on a fist-pumping celebration toward middle ice, then headed back the other way to leap into Tkachuk’s arms.
But Shanahan and the Rangers were celebrating at the end.
Notes: Atlanta has never led an NHL playoff series. The city’s previous team, the Flames, had a 2-15 record in six post-season appearances before moving to Calgary in 1980. … Both teams scratched the same three players as Game 1. LW Brad Isbister, D Karel Rachunek and C Ryan Hollweg sat out for the Rangers, while D Steve McCarthy, RW J.P. Vigier and C Derek MacKenzie watched for the Thrashers. … New York had another big edge in shots. After outshooting Atlanta 38-24 in Game 1, the Rangers had a 39-28 advantage Saturday.