|Rangers 4, Thrashers 2|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 18 April 2007 22:13|
The New York Rangers' captain wanted to wrap up this first-round playoff series in a sweep to avoid a trip back to Atlanta. He even did the work of the referee to try to speed things along.
When officials and the NHL office in Toronto took a long time debating whether Matt Cullen's hard drive off the crossbar crossed the goal line before popping out in the third period, Jagr took matters into his hands.
``Our trainer said it's a goal. That's why I went for the puck and put it in the middle. I don't know if you guys saw that,'' Jagr said through a sheepish grin after the Rangers' 4-2 win over the Thrashers on Wednesday night. ``I think some guy from Atlanta didn't agree with me. He shot it back.''
After a delay that lasted several minutes, everyone agreed with Jagr. Cullen's goal snapped a third-period tie and sent the Rangers on the way to a win that wrapped up a four-game sweep of the Thrashers and sent New York into the second round for the first time in a decade.
``You just want to finish a team when you can,'' Jagr said. ``You never know. It can go either way. We win one game, they go home. They win at home, and you have Game 6 and 7 back to back.''
He doesn't have to worry about that anymore. Jagr, who hadn't gotten this deep in the postseason since 2001 - his final season with Pittsburgh - and the rest of the Rangers will have about a week off before facing their next opponent.
``It gives you time to rest,'' Jagr said. ``It doesn't mean you're going to just sit around and wait for the next team to play.''
In other games Wednesday, New Jersey got even with Tampa Bay after four games with a 4-3 overtime win. Buffalo, the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, grabbed a 3-1 series lead by topping the New York Islanders 4-3.
San Jose beat Nashville 3-2 to open a 3-1 advantage in the only Western game of the night.
Rangers coach Tom Renney gave his team off Thursday and told the players to be back on the ice Friday to prepare for the next round against either Buffalo, Ottawa, Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay.
Although he was pleased with the totally unexpected sweep of the Southeast Division champions, he repeatedly pointed out that this was just the first step of what he called New York's ``business trip.''
``One thing that you have to be careful about is that you don't decompress to the point where you are just frozen,'' Renney said after his first series win in the NHL. ``I think that is something we have to pay attention to over the next few days.''
A year after being swept out of the first round by New Jersey in their return to the playoffs, following a team-record, seven-season absence, the Rangers turned the trick on the Thrashers, who quickly exited their first series.
``It never, ever entered my mind,'' Renney said. ``A sweep? Never.''
Cullen fired a rolling puck from just inside the blue line that smacked the iron and dropped on its side just over the goal line at 2:06. It helped the Rangers secure their first series win since ousting New Jersey from the second round in 1997.
``You can't really ask for a better series from the guys,'' said forward Brendan Shanahan, who tied it at 2 in the second period. ``We are happy the way we played the series, but at the same time we are keeping our head on our shoulders.''
Sixth-seeded New York earned its first home playoff victory since 1997 on Tuesday upon returning to Madison Square Garden after taking the first two games in Atlanta. It was the Rangers' first sweep since the opening round of the 1994 playoffs - the year they last won the Stanley Cup - and their third in a best-of-seven.
``It wasn't our goal to just make the first round,'' Jagr said. ``As long as we stay healthy we have a pretty good chance to go somewhere.''
Fresh off a 7-0 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday, the Rangers had a much tougher time with goalie Johan Hedberg than Kari Lehtonen. Hedberg stopped 37 shots in a 2-1 loss in Game 2 but Thrashers coach Bob Hartley made the curious decision to go back to Lehtonen, the 4-3 loser in the opener, in New York.
Michal Rozsival and Shanahan wiped out one-goal advantages and put Cullen in position for the game-winner. Jagr scored into an empty net with 1:33 remaining.
Cullen stepped into his series-winning shot, meeting the puck as it rolled on edge. It smacked the bar and landed as it was when Cullen let it go. Play continued for another 16 seconds until Hedberg stopped another scoring chance.
``I saw it hit the crossbar and then I lost sight of it,'' Cullen said. ``I was actually surprised they were reviewing it. I didn't expect it to be a goal.''
When referee Mike Hasenfratz finally pointed to center ice, Cullen was mobbed by teammates at the bench as Hedberg shook his head in the crease.
Keith Tkachuk and Greg de Vries scored for the Thrashers, who got 27 saves from Hedberg.
``We weren't even close to being competitive in the playoffs,'' said forward Bobby Holik, a two-time champion with New Jersey. ``There should be no sense of accomplishment whatsoever.''
Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves for the Rangers, who held a 17-6 scoring edge and 143-99 shots advantage in the series. The Rangers are the first team to advance to the second round.
De Vries gave the Thrashers their second short-lived lead of the series with 7:34 left in the middle period. Marian Hossa, who scored a career-high 100 points this season, assisted for his only point of the series.
New York tied it 5:52 later on Shanahan's 56th NHL playoff goal, fifth among active players and his third of the series.
Devils 4, Lightning 3, OT
Scott Gomez zipped the winning goal past Johan Holmqvist with 7:06 left in overtime and visiting New Jersey tied the series 2-2. Zach Parise scored his fifth and sixth goals of the series for the Devils.
Sabres 4, Islanders 2
At Uniondale, N.Y., Chris Drury scored twice and Ryan Miller made 24 saves to push Buffalo to the brink of the second round. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville also scored for the Sabres, in position to end the series Friday at home.
Jason Blake and Mike Sillinger scored for the Islanders, who thought they tied it with 1:42 left after a big scramble in front. But the apparent goal was waved off and upheld by replay.
Sharks 3, Predators 2
Milan Michalek scored two goals, Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves and host San Jose took a commanding lead in the series.
Rookie Joe Pavelski also scored his first playoff goal for the Sharks, and Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo had two assists apiece.