ATLANTA – Henrik Lundqvist called it “do or die” hockey between two struggling teams in danger of losing all hope in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik gave New York the lead with goals 41 seconds apart in the first period and the Rangers beat Atlanta 5-2 on Friday night for the Thrashers’ fifth straight loss.
Lundqvist made 29 saves to help the Rangers end a four-game losing streak. The goalie said the Rangers must use the win to establish momentum for a playoff push.
“It’s still do or die for us,” Lundqvist said. “We’re still in a really tough position. I hope we can compete.”
The Rangers are ninth in the Eastern Conference, three points ahead of Atlanta.
Prospal had two goals and an assist, Gaborik had a goal and two assists, and Michael Del Zotto and Ryan Callahan – into an empty net – also scored for New York in the critical game for each team’s fading playoff hopes.
The Rangers scored two power-play goals while taking a 3-0 lead in the first period.
“Our power play stepped up,” said Lundqvist, who bounced back after being pulled in the second period of a 6-3 loss at New Jersey on Wednesday night.
“We had good intensity and energy and confidence, and we got some bounces, too. That always helps.”
Clarke MacArthur and Ron Hainsey scored for Atlanta.
Defenceman Chris Chelios, the 48-year-old 11-time all-star, blocked two shots in his home debut for the Thrashers. He was recalled from Chicago of the AHL on Wednesday.
The Thrashers’ five straight losses, including three at home, have come in eight days since they briefly held eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They have scored only six goals in the five losses – all in regulation – to fall to 11th.
“You have to keep things simple,” Chelios said. “You have to play playoff hockey. Every goal is huge.”
Hainsey said the Thrashers played “OK” for the opening few minutes “and then they had one go in and we just didn’t respond.”
Coach John Anderson said the Thrashers have been “playing not to lose.”
Anderson called the opener of a five-game homestand a must-win game for Atlanta, which began the night tied for 10th in the conference, a point behind the Rangers. The Thrashers didn’t answer the call.
“Obviously, we have to win some games,” Anderson said. “I think we pretty much have to win out at home, since we have a lot of home games. … It looks bleak, but it can change very quickly.”
Prospal scored on a shot past Johan Hedberg’s catching glove 7:49 into the first period. Gaborik, who set up Prospal’s goal, added a rebound shot on the power play 41 seconds later for a 2-0 lead. Prospal’s second goal of the opening period, also on the power play, pushed the lead to 3-0.
“That’s always a big positive,” said Prospal of the early lead. “When you get a three-goal lead, especially on the road, it gives you confidence and lets you relax a little.”
The Thrashers, who won the first three games of the season against the Rangers, were denied their first season sweep since 2002-03.
NOTES: Rangers F Sean Avery was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. He missed five games early in the season due to an injury. Enver Lisin replaced Avery after sitting out five of the last seven games, including the last three. … The five-game losing streak is the longest for Atlanta since a nine-game streak from Dec. 19 through Jan. 5. … Hedberg made 30 saves.