(Long Island, NY) What a difference a year makes. In the opening round of the 2005-06 NHL Playoffs, the New York Rangers were on the short end of a three games to none deficit. That eventually turned into a four-game sweep at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. Captain Jaromir Jagr was out with a shoulder injury suffered in the first game, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was experiencing migraines and fatigue from the long season and Olympic Gold Medal he won for Sweden during the All-Star break.
But fast forward to the present and the Rangers will once again be on the Madison Square Garden ice with the opening playoff round standing at three games to none. But the Rangers are not on the short side of that. The team staring elimination in the face is the Atlanta Thrashers, who finished the regular season seeded third in the Eastern Conference to the Rangers’ sixth.
Usually, a team that goes on the road for the first two games in a playoff series would be satisfied with a split. But the Rangers were able to take total control of the best-of-seven series by winning both games in Atlanta by one goal. They took the opening contest 4-3, and then held on in Game Two, 2-1.
The series then moved to New York and as close as the first two games were, Game Three was a blowout. Michael Nylander scored a hat trick to lead the home squad to a 7-0 victory, which was the Rangers’ first home post-season win since 1997. Lundqvist was sharp once again and stopped all 21 Atlanta shots.
“It felt like everything was working for us,” Lundqvist said to reporters. “It’s not every night, especially in the playoffs, when everything just seems to work for you.”
Jagr had four assists in the game, which included all three of linemate Nylander’s goals. Rookie Ryan Callahan is enjoying his first NHL playoff experience and scored two goals in the second period. The other scorers were Marek Malik and Brendan Shanahan. Sean Avery chipped in with two assists to further his legend with the fans at the Garden.
“I think we are hungry and we are going to come in here tomorrow night with the mindset that we are going to finish it off and play a real hard game,” the forward said to reporters. “Basically, the same game we played in the first three (games of the series).”
Atlanta has basically gone to a platoon system in goal. Kari Lehtonen started Games One and Three, with Johan Hedberg in Game Two. The youngster Lohtenen was in goal for all seven scores, and was not pulled to give Hedberg rest before his start the following evening in Game Four.
With the Rangers on the verge of ousting Atlanta, this has to be viewed as a mild surprise. The Thrashers did win the Southwest Division with 97 points. But the Rangers came into the post-season hot, and went 7-2-1 in their last 10 regular season games.