By Brett Huston
NY Rangers (39-27-8) at Atlanta (30-38-6), 7:00 p.m. EDT
ATLANTA (AP) -- The New York Rangers' schedule the rest of the
way is chock full of Eastern Conference contenders, and if they
hope to see any of those teams again in the playoffs they'll
need to earn some wins.
They could especially use one against the lone lightweight left
on their slate.
Atlanta is the last team the Rangers will face that doesn't have
playoff aspirations, and New York will look to pick up two key
points when it visits the Thrashers on Thursday night before
opening a brutal seven-game closing stretch.
The Rangers (39-27-8) are in seventh place in the East, three
points clear of eighth-place Montreal and five up on ninth-place
While New York seems in a good position to qualify for the
postseason, it has a difficult closing stretch, with six of its
final seven games against teams ahead of it in the standings and
the lone other contest against the Canadiens.
The Rangers lost for the first time in five games at Madison
Square Garden on Sunday, falling 2-1 to Ottawa, but bounced back
Tuesday against defensive-minded Minnesota. Nikolai Zherdev
scored for the third time in four games and added an assist to
help New York slip past the stingy Wild 2-1.
"Every single game now is a pressure game with playoff
atmosphere, and it was huge to bounce back from that 2-1 loss to
Ottawa," defenseman Paul Mara told the Rangers' official Web
site. "Hopefully this will get us back on a roll here."
While New York's been tough to beat at home lately, that hasn't
been the case on the road - where it'll almost certainly need to
win a game should it make the playoffs.
The Rangers have won three of five away from MSG, but prior to
that they'd lost nine in a row in visiting arenas.
New York's lack of scoring has played a huge role in its road
struggles. The Rangers score a league-low 2.42 goals per game,
but that futility has really been evident on the road since the
beginning of January, as they've averaged just 1.63 goals.
They have, however, scored four apiece in their three most
recent wins away from home. Three seems to be their magic
number, however - if they score that many or more, they're
12-1-1 on the road. If New York scores two or fewer, it's
One of those three-goal games came in Atlanta on Dec. 10, when
Scott Gomez's overtime tally gave the Rangers a 3-2 victory. New
York and Atlanta (30-38-6) have split two meetings at MSG, with
the Thrashers winning 2-1 in a shootout there on Feb. 3.
While New York was taking care of Minnesota on Tuesday, Atlanta
couldn't help the Rangers out in Montreal. The Thrashers gave up
three power-play goals in a 6-3 loss to the Canadiens and were
eliminated from playoff contention.
Atlanta has given up nine goals in 22 short-handed chances while
losing three of its last four games.
"Actually, the last 20 games we've been getting better but we're
still working on it," Kovalchuk said of the Thrashers'
short-handed struggles. "We've got a young team and we've got a
long way to improve our game to be a competitive team for the
playoffs. It's very important to be good on the special teams so
hopefully next year we'll be way better than we are this year."
Kovalchuk has just one goal in his last seven games against the
Rangers, who have lost three of their last four in Atlanta.