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New York Rangers look to finish off Atlanta Thrashers at home

"Well the fact that we're going into Game 3 with a couple of wins is probably all you need to know," he said.

The New York Rangers coach looked relaxed in a sweater and jeans following practice Monday.

And why not? His club is back home after two victories in Atlanta over the Southeast Division-champion Thrashers.

If the Rangers win consecutive games at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and Wednesday, they can quickly wrap up the first-round series in a sweep. Last year, after a seven-season absence from the playoffs, New York dropped two in New Jersey and ended up being swept by the Devils.

"I think we feel good, but we're on a business trip here," Renney said. "This business trip's two months long and we want to make sure it lasts that long for us.

"I think we've got ourselves in the moment. I don't think we're looking past the next game at all."

The Rangers closed the regular season with nine home wins in 11 games - including the final five - to surge into sixth place in the Eastern Conference and set up the matchup with Atlanta, in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

The Thrashers shouldn't be too intimidated by what is sure to be a raucous arena Monday night. They went 1-0-1 in two trips to the Garden this season.

"We're down 0-2 . . . but I think it's so important for us to remember that we're doing lots of great things," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "We did an unbelievable job on the (Jaromir) Jagr line, penalty killing was great and we got great goaltending.

"There's lot of parts that we did very well at that you need to be successful in the playoffs."

Hartley said Monday before the team's scheduled flight to New York that Game 1 starter Kari Lehtonen will return Tuesday after giving way to Johan Hedberg on Saturday. The move is a little curious as Hedberg allowed only two goals - one a flukey bank shot by Sean Avery off the side boards - and made 37 saves in New York's 2-1 victory.

Hedberg had no chance on the winner, either, as Avery made a deft pass to Brendan Shanahan when everyone expected the agitating forward to move the puck elsewhere.

"I still like our chances," said Hedberg, who also made 38 saves in a 2-1 overtime win over the Rangers on March 16. "We are down two, but it's happened before."

It certainly has. There have been 274 series before this year in which a team took a 2-0 lead, and 37 have rallied to advance - including 16 who dropped the first two at home.

Rangers forward Matt Cullen was a member of the most recent comeback kids, helping last year's Carolina Hurricanes turn around a rough start and beat the Montreal Canadiens in the first round en route to the Stanley Cup championship.

"You do have to be aware that a 2-0 lead doesn't mean you're going to win the series automatically," Cullen said. "Knowing how I felt last year, I think Atlanta feels that they have nothing to lose.

"We need to stay with what we've been doing."

And what has worked for New York is a commitment to defence and stellar goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, now in his second NHL postseason. The Rangers have outshot Atlanta 77-52 in the first two games and have never trailed.

Atlanta has exerted a physical presence, led by former Rangers forward Bobby Holik.

Renney isn't one who usually tries to match lines, but he might take advantage of having the last change at home. It wouldn't be the worst thing to try to get Jagr's line away from the hard-hitting Holik and have his checking line against Marian Hossa and Slava Kozlov.

He didn't tip his hand.

"Bob reads," Renney said. "You can speculate.

"I'll just leave it at that."

The Thrashers' top scorers have been held in check, while Atlanta has struggled to shut down both of New York's main two scoring lines. The unit of Shanahan, Avery and Martin Straka netted both goals and 17 shots in Game 2.

Atlanta's main threats Ilya Kovalchuk, Kozlov and Hossa, have managed just one goal from Kovalchuk and no other points in the series.

"They've been playing pretty well but our guys have been playing really well, as well," Lundqvist said. "You have to be aware when they are on the ice.

"They're really dangerous."

And so is looking too far ahead. Even though the next two games will be played within a span of 24 hours, the Rangers are working hard to maintain focus on Game 3. Any slips, and the Thrashers will be right back in the series.

They could be even by Wednesday with two of the final three potential games back in Atlanta's "Blueland."

"Even if they were playing (Game) Four at midnight tomorrow, we'd be thinking about (Game) Three," Shanahan said.



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